Zembla's Oscar Rodeo continues with Babel, Alejandro González Iñárritu's tale of estranged marriages, goat herders with shotguns, chicken-slaying drunkards, desert survivalism, and exhibitionist Japanese mutes. I wish the film were as exciting as that previous sentence implies. I discussed Babel last month, but the Oscar Rodeo demands a closer look.
Nominations: 7 total. Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Score, Editing, and two for Best Supporting Actress (Rinko Kikuchi and Adriana Barraza).
Plot Summary: After their father buys a shotgun to protect his goats from wolves, two Moroccan boys shoot Cate Blanchett from long range, as she's riding in a bus with Brad Pitt. While evil British tourists bitch at him and government troops hunt for the shooters, Pitt tries to get her medical treatment. Meanwhile, Pitt's kids go to Mexico for their nanny's son's wedding. On the way home, chaos ensues. In a totally unrelated third story, a deaf Japanese girl looks for love and mourns her mother's death.
Title of the porn version: Boobel
Strengths: The movie looks pretty. Almost all of the acting is strong, especially in the Mexico portion of the story.
Weaknesses: Not a lot happens and what does happen takes place very slowly. The Japanese portion of the film is so tenuously connected to the rest of the film, it is hard to give it the same weight. This movie is simply not very entertaining.
Drug use: Cate Blanchett smokes out with the village doctor to ease her shoulder pain. The Mexicans drink a lot at the wedding. Way to defy stereotypes, filmmakers.
Physical or mental impairments: The Japanese girl is deaf. Blanchett's shoulder bleeds a lot.
Portrayals of real people: None. Officially, the movie is not inspired by real events. Before the credits, we see that the film was "based on an idea" by the director and screenwriter, maybe so audiences don't think Brad Pitt made the whole thing up.
Cute children: Pitt and Blanchett's kids are pretty cute. I didn't think the Moroccan kids were quite as adorable, though perhaps I'm displaying the same kind of cultural biases that doom so many characters in this film. Señor Iñárritu, you have stared into my soul once again.
Physical transformations: Brad Pitt looks older than he ever has on screen in the past, but I think it's due to old man makeup. And a beard. Oscar likes it when actors grow facial hair. It can make a lightweight actor seem more serious (see Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting) or a normally serious actor appear more comedic (see Kevin Kline in A Fish Called Wanda).
Someone should remake Face/Off with Williams as the serious cop and Kline as the wisecracking bad guy. Then, after they switch bodies, both shave their beards to indicate the personality changes. Interested movie producers, please leave contact information in the comments.
Does a man cry?: Yes. There's some crying from men who are injured or scared, which doesn't exactly count. However, Pitt has a good man cry on the phone in the hospital. As he manfully sobs, there's an indistinct announcement in the background. I like to think it said, "Paging Dr. Oscar!"
Box Office: $30 million, against a budget of $25 million.
Running time: 142 minutes.
Feels like: 213 minutes.
Favorite scene: Obviously, I liked any scene that began with the deaf girls high-fiving one another, but I also enjoyed the whole sequence at the wedding in Mexico. In particular, when the kids chase chickens around, just before Gael García Bernal's casually kills one for dinner, the gringo children's reaction is priceless. If that hadn't been followed by an implausible snowball of horrific events for everyone concerned, I would have ahd a far more positive opinion of Babel.
Least-favorite scene: Blanchett has to pee, but she's injured and can barely move. Naturally, Pitt helps lift her so she can use a bedpan. And then they start making out while she urinates.
Best Editing: The leading contenders for Best Editing are Babel and The Departed, films that are 131 minutes and 151 minutes long, respectively. I know editing involves much more than simply cutting extraneous footage, but I still think that's funny. This might end up a common theme in the Oscar Rodeo, but I feel that Babel should be at least half an hour shorter, considering how much plot there is. I wish I could have gone into the editing room with my very own Wrap It Up Box.
Overall theme: The film concerns people's inability to communicate with one another, hence the title, and the multiple languages used throughout. That theme is fairly trite. Previously, I've written that the main themes were:
1. British tourists are bastards.
2. So is the Border Patrol.
3. Deaf Japanese girls are prone to act out in an inappropriate sexual manner.
4. Hey, remember 21 Grams?
Firearms lead to tragedy in each of the separate stories in Babel, but I think the true message might be, "Bad things happen to you when you leave the United States."
Prediction: Babel shared the award from the American Cinema Editors with The Departed. I think having two editors will work against it, and Babel will win only Best Score.
Deserves: I don't have an opinion on Best Score, but I would vote for Adriana Barraza as Best Supporting Actress for playing the nanny. So, one, possibly two.