So I'm not sure this is a review, but more of a negative critique of a film that could have been better if it just tried.
Babel is filled with multiple story lines, hard acting, very multi-culturalism, but it's missing something. And I'm still trying to figure out what that is. If you take one of the story lines away, of a girl in Japan, it could have been a better movie. But if you took that away, the film would only be an hour and a half; and if the director would have added to the other story lines, that probably would have taken away from the other performances.
If you took away another story line of the film, the two children of Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett's characters in Mexico with their nanny, as well as the Japanese story line, you could say it would be a better film. But now you're down to a 60 minute film - so what would you do as a director? I can't answer that question because obviously Alejandro González Iñárritu didn't see anything wrong with his movie.
Brad Pitt's performance is strong, but he's really not in the film enough to see his true talents; Cate Blanchett plays his wife who's been shot from a far, while sleeping on a bus, by two young Muslim brothers. Most of the film, she's either lying unconscious in a room, or just crying and screaming in pain.
What I found odd, was both of their roles got good about an hour and a half into the over-two hour film. That's actually true of the entire film; Babel could be described that way - very good 90 minutes into it.
In fact, a few times actually, I would wait for something to happen before the first 90 minutes of the film - but nothing, I got nothing from anything. Every time I thought a spark was going to happen, something turns up as potentially interesting, it fell flat.
So the four story lines in the film are Brad and Cate's struggle to keep her alive, the Moroccan police search for the shooters, Brad and Cate's kids at home in California, who are taken to Mexico by their nanny, and a deaf girl in Japan.
This is where I have a problem with Babel - a serious problem. The latter of the story lines, the girl in Japan has no real relevance to the film; her part could have been completely left out, and it would have made for a better film. I think by leaving her struggles as a teenager in Japan - the outsider, being deaf, living with her widowed father because her mother is dead (either by suicide or something else) - leaving all that in the film takes away from the real plot.
As far as tying everything together, her storyline only has relevance because her father gave a hunter the gun that shot Cate Blanchett; but the hunter had sold it to the father of the two boys who actually did the crime. However, if you left that fact out, but left her story in, it still doesn't make sense. Standing alone, her part and her performance is good - but again, it didn't make sense to the film to have her in there.
Cate and Brad really have the biggest story; the drive for help and the fight to stay alive. I was moved by their fight to keep the bus in the small village. Along with that, the police search for the two boys. As I recall the film, and as I've spoken to people over the last few days, if Babel was just that and nothing else, it would have been an exciting film. But if it was that, it would have been like every other film out there; it would have been a mystery suspense thriller. However, you add those other two stories in, and it drowns out what could have potentially been a very good thriller.
Cate and Brad's children were at home with the nanny; with the shooting incident, they were not able to come home in time for the nanny to drive to Mexico for her son's wedding. With no other choice, she takes the two kids with her, along with her nephew, played by Gael Garcia Bernal.
In Mexico, the children experience a true Mexican wedding - equipped with Gael ripping off the head of a live chicken in front of the kids. But it's as they're leaving the country and re-entering the United States, they run into trouble. With no real authorization to have the children in her custody, and Gael a bit intoxicated, they're further examined by the border patrol.
Not wanting to get into more trouble, Gael speeds off, evading police. He eventually turns onto a dirt road, dropping the nanny and the two kids in the middle of the hot desert to fend for themselves.
Babel could be better, but it's not trying to be. The style is set for a certain audience - I am certainly not that audience.