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Commentary Entertainment

“Babylon”: decadence, Dutch angles and dimensionless characters

Photo Courtesy of the "Babylon" website

“Babylon,” directed by Damien Chazelle, is a thrilling story about filmmaking, Hollywood and debauchery. The three-hour-long extravaganza leaps from plotline to plotline in an attempt to cram the film with as much plot as possible. Lively cinematography and action-filled shots stimulate the brain for portions of the movie – however, I do not believe that the impressive visuals save the movie from multiple damning issues.

Negatives:

“Babylon” suffers from a problem that I like to call the Tobey Maguire “Spider-Man 3” problem. This is when a movie has too many main characters and the film fails to flush out and develop all – or any – of them. “Babylon” attempts to follow three main characters, with those being Jack Conrad, a superstar actor on the downfall of his career; Neillie LaRoy, a rising star female actress and Manuel, an aspiring filmmaker who made his way into Hollywood from essentially nothing. Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie and Diego Calva, who play these characters respectively, give their best effort to invigorate these characters with life. However, the script fails to give these characters depth. Although the run time of the movie is north of three hours, there was still not enough time allotted to fully develop these potentially fascinating characters. The audience is left with the shell of three characters that were never given depth past surface level.

“Babylon” comes on strong in the beginning, with a 30-minute scene painting a picture of the wild party scene of 1920s Los Angeles. It is in this scene that the audience is introduced to the three main characters. Nellie LeRoy’s flamboyant personality is put on full display in this scene as she dances and flirts with nearly every conscious man at the party. If you aren’t bothered by excessive nudity and drug intake, then this scene is a fun and exciting way to begin the movie. But this is the negative section of the review, so it’s time to stop giving the movie its flowers. After this fast-paced intro, the movie significantly slows down. The pacing certainly picks up at other times later on in the movie, but the inconsistency of the pacing gives the movie a disjointed feel and it accentuates the already lengthy run time.

This fictional film shows the three main characters throughout time, which leads to the inclusion of plot lines that don’t have much correlation or necessity in the movie. The beginning of the film gives the audience an image of 1920s and 30s Hollywood and shows the development of films and the characters throughout time. The middle of the movie is about filmmaking and how the changes in film at the time – such as the addition of sound to films – affected the characters and their respective careers. This seems like a logical progression for a movie that is about history and filmmaking; however, the final act of the movie has shockingly little to do with the topic of the movie. The final third of the movie focuses on a separate plotline that feels disjointed and appears to come from nowhere. “Babylon” would have been a much stronger movie if the plot had stayed on a linear path and didn’t fall off the rails as it did in the end.

Positives:

         Although the movie had many cinema sins that are difficult to overlook (especially in a film that’s three hours long), there were certainly positive aspects to the movie. As I alluded to previously, the movie has fantastic cinematography and fun shots. It would make sense that a film about filmmaking would have good filmmaking itself, and “Babylon” certainly doesn’t disappoint in this aspect. The opening scene has exciting tracking shots that give the audience the feeling that they’re present and experiencing the madness of the chaotic Los Angeles party scene for themselves. There are also multiple scenes that give the audience a look into the filmmaking process of older movies. More tracking shots are employed where the audience sees the hectic beautiful disaster that highlights the experience of being on set back in the day. There is also phenomenal editing that injects the audience with the thrill of being present for the creation of movies. The frustration, stress and excitement are all captured perfectly in these scenes, and they’re very fun to watch. Babylon also has an incredible score that brings even more life to the movie.

         This movie is also great for people who are interested in films, filmmaking, or the history of films. Seeing the shift from silent films and the impact that the switch had on the industry is interesting. Some characters thrive, while others fail and being able to experience the juxtaposition of how everyone would feel the impact of the industry switch is captivating. Overall, “Babylon” is a love letter to films, and the movie ends in a heartwarming way that inserts in the audience a love for films that’s almost become alienated and rare in modern times.

         “Babylon” is an entertaining movie at best and a good waste of three hours at worst. I would recommend that anybody who has a love for filmmaking watch this movie, and those with little interest or curiosity should probably stay away. I believe that the concept of “Babylon” would have been properly executed in the form of a TV show, where every character would have ample screen time to be fully developed and characterized. If you have nothing on your plate and you want to grab some popcorn and head to the theaters, then I would recommend you go watch “Babylon”; just try to ignore the flaws as best as you can. 

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