Clearly a small but persistent percentage of the film critic elite are gunning for Babel. This Mark Caro piece from his Chicago Tribune/Pop Machine blog (which has been nicely re-designed, by the way) is an example.
Caro thinks Babel is Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu‘s (and Guillermo Arriaga‘s) least impressive film, and yet I’ve spoken to many bright and perceptive viewers (including Pan’s Labyrinth director-writer Guillermo del Toro) who think it’s truly their best. I feel this way myself because it’s the most poem-like. Who’s right? Obviously no one, but I know this: Caro & Co. are being overly harsh on a film that they know full well is, at the very least, quality merchandise.
Caro and his brethren know that Babel is spare, honest and carefully rendered in a raw, unfiltered fashion on a scene-by-scene basis. They know it’s well written (okay, except for the first scene between Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett), and that the acting is first-rate top to bottom.
And they know that Babel is expressing an eternal truism — a not-very-original one perhaps, but unquestionably the cosmic law of the jungle — about how we’re all reacting to each other’s hurt and that we’re all imprisoned in an endless action- reaction cycle that we can’t hope to control or fully comprehend in all its particu- larity, but which we can at least try to accept and perhaps consider our actions and reactions more fully in light of it.
And yet the elites are leading a charge against this excellent film because they want something else after seeing two similar interconected fate-thread movies from Inarritu-Arriaga before, and because they don’t think that the perfectly delivered Japanese section has enough of a strong story-line connection to the Pitt-Blan- chett tale in Morocco and the Adriana Barraza-Gael Garcia Bernal tale in Mexico.
Talk to any one of these elites in a bar and sooner or later they’ll admit that Babel is quality stuff all the way and that it’s operating on a plane that’s well, well above the level of Crash (Samuel L. Jackson‘s remark that Babel is “Crash Benetton” is facile and lazy) and still they’re dumping on it as a Crash-like slog. And it seems to me that a critic should always strive to be as honest with his/her readers as he/she is with a friend after a glass and a half of wine. Very few are.
Caro has written that he “assume[s] many moviegoers will disagree with me (as Tribune critic Michael Wilmington does), but I also think a lot of people will see Babel out of some sense of obligation only to feel guilty when they find themselves longing for actual entertainment.”
The best kind of entertainment for me (for most people, I suspect) is to be enthral- led by the “all” of a movie…to be caught up by every twist and turn, by the look and pacing and texture of a film…the clock stops ticking and you go into the film and emerge two hours later. Babel, trust me (and you really, really don’t want to trust Caro on this one), is, in this sense, a hugely entertaining film.
“If Academy voters truly believe that Babel is the best that the movie world has to offer — Newsweek‘s Sean Smith already is predicting that it’ll win best picture — I’ll be stunned as well as convinced that I’m even more out of sync with Hollywood’s sensibility than I thought,” Caro concludes.
Who knows which film will win in the end (hint: it won’t be The Pursuit of Happy- ness or Flags of Our Fathers ), but if Babel doesn’t win (and if it doesn’t it won’t be the end of the world — it is what it is and that’s a fulfillment and a completion in itself), the piss-head cabal can all meet at a bar in Cannes next May and buy themselves drinks and go yaw-haw-haw.