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Babel’ Astounds As Tale Of Humanity

Tae Andrews | Monday, February 12, 2007

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a five-part series on the 2007 Oscar nominees for Best Picture.

As a film, “Babel” is very similar to last year’s “Crash,” which also involved a very convoluted and unlikely plot that tied together many different people from different walks of life. Also like “Crash,” “Babel” is a film centered around the basic humanity that ties together people, regardless of how different they might seem.

“Babel” features Brad Pitt, who takes some time off from his typical routine of Hollywood star-glitter in such films as “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” and “Ocean’s 12” to roll up his sleeves and get his hands dirty with some real acting. In doing so, he confirms his status as a legitimate actor with some real chops instead of being just a pretty face. Replete with a graying beard and some gristle on those chiseled features, Mr. Pitt does a good job of portraying Richard, a haggard husband trying to save his wife after she’s shot while vacationing in Morocco.

What may surprise most viewers is that Pitt is not actually onscreen during much of the film. While his headshots are nice to splash on movie posters and marquee headlines, the story actually revolves around six different families with complicated and coincidental relationships. Cate Blanchett plays Pitt’s estranged wife Susan and spends much of her time in “Babel” knocking on death’s door and squirming in anguish as she is shot relatively early on in the movie.

Boubker Ait El Caid plays Yussef, the young son of a Moroccan goatherd. When he is given a rifle to shoot marauding jackals, one thing leads to another and he and his brother end up shooting a tour bus containing Richard and Susan, which sets the whole Rube Goldberg-type plot in motion.

While Richard and Susan are gone vacationing in Morocco, their children are left in their San Diego home under the watchful eye of their nanny, Amelia, played by Adriana Barraza. After Amelia decides to take the kids to her son’s wedding down in Mexico, the trio runs into trouble as they try to return to the country. On the other side of the globe, Rinko Kikuchi plays Chieko, a deaf-mute Japanese schoolgirl who is experiencing the advent of her teenage sexuality but is frustrated by her inability to communicate with young men – or them with her.

The Kevin Bacon-esque game of six degrees of separation links the plot together, but what director Alejandro González Iñárritu is getting at is the underlying humanity, which ties all of humanity together. Extremely well made, “Babel” features beautiful sprawling shots of the Moroccan countryside and interesting and artistic editing. It’s a tad long, clocking in at over two hours, but it’s worth the extra film reel.

Iñárritu, of previous fame with his 2003 hit “21 Grams,” weaves a clear motif of communication throughout this sprawling and beautiful film. Whether it’s the language barrier Richard faces in his time of crisis in Morocco, or Chieko’s inability to communicate with the world around her, Iñárritu is focused on finding what exactly it is that gives people their sense of self. In addition, he clearly has a lot to say in terms of his political message, given the portrayal of the American government in the film as it deals with the international politics of securing Susan’s rescue in Morocco and the Mexican-American border dynamic.

Appropriately enough, “Crash” managed to make like its own title and crashed the Oscar party en route to scoring Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay awards, beating out previous frontrunner “Brokeback Mountain.” With a little luck and some Academy love, Iñárritu may find himself lifting a trophy with a golden man for this well-made and beautiful film.