Babylon Movie Review

Babylon movie poster

A frenetic, meandering epic crackling with electricity, Damien Chazelle’s Babylon bottles more raw energy than most other movies released this year combined–but at three hours long, with a third act that takes that energy into unexpected places, it’s a hard movie to love, or even recommend.

I am predisposed to hate “movies about Hollywood” (only filmmakers and cinephiles really care about this subject), but for a while Chazelle’s “I give zero fucks” approach works incredibly well. In fact, Babylon is arguably the funniest movie of the year–not something I expected at all from a movie like this. It’s unhinged, uncaring, and flamboyantly crazy, a refreshing alternative to the dull award contenders I’ve been sifting through for the last month.

Margot Robbie is perfectly cast; she goes all in as the “go for broke” Nellie LaRoy, a star in the making. She’s wild, she’s unrelenting, and she is a disaster in the making, an ominous sign for what’s to come in Chazelle’s vision.

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Brad Pitt is equally great, but for different reasons. He picks and pulls from the skill set he has put on display for decades, the dashing, establishment charisma mixed with his underappreciated penchant for oddball humor. 

Less can be said about the primary protagonist (if there is one), played by lesser known Diego Calva. He may be totally fine, but he gets to play the conventional straight man in a film where conventional is intentionally uninteresting. His co-stars, and even the bit players (P.J. Byrne, by the way, is explosively awesome in a role that will go as completely underappreciated), run circles around him–perhaps more Chazell’s fault than Calva’s. Still, for what it is, I was largely disinterested in his character, his motivations, and his life trajectory–things that may not have mattered had Chazelle ended things at normal-movie-length instead of what he decided to do.

As a whole, Babylon is a real test for audiences. Chazelle’s intentions make sense, except where he takes his opus requires him to abandon the best elements as time progresses. In part about the maturation of Hollywood, the transition from silent to talkies, and the challenges of said transition, Chazelle, who also wrote the screenplay, takes his movie to dark places. Scene by scene, the filmmaker continues to deliver surprises–an extremely weird and twisted sequence including Tobey Maguire is off puttingly captivating–but the intentional shift in tone is hard to grasp and even harder to appreciate.

For nearly two hours, Babylon was a blast of hilarity, absurdity, and freewheeling fun and chaos, but the movie’s third act goes off the deep end. Some will appreciate it, but most will not. I sure didn’t.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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