REVIEW – “Babylon”

In a way, it truly feels like Damien Chazelle’s career so far has been heading directly towards Babylon – an epic in every sense of the word, between its elaborate set-pieces of incredible scale and lunacy to its insane 189-minute running time; every part of this feels like a true Hollywood epic that is all-about Hollywood itself. What sets Chazelle’s Babylon apart from other films about Hollywood, however, is a sense of melancholy and distaste for the industry it belongs to. So many films about the art of filmmaking are very self congratulatory, but Babylon takes the approach of admiring the art and some of the people that make things happen, while mostly condemning and showing the cess-pool that the industry often tries to hide. It’s as equally a love-letter to the art of filmmaking and the power and magnitude of film as a form as it is an indictment to the nastiest things that happen behind the scenes, from the people calling the shots.

The film is largely an ensemble with dozens of characters that come in-and-out of the story spontaneously and over time, but three focal characters that are almost entirely in the film are that of Manny Torres (Diego Calva), Nellie LaRoy (Margot Robbie), and Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt) – each of which are scattered in different sections of Hollywood’s pyramid as the film begins. Jack Conrad is one of the most mighty movie stars of all-time, a guaranteed box-office success who flies high with money and style. Manny works for Jack, but also ends up doing a lot of side-work on the film sets he finds himself on and desires to make his way up the ladder to something bigger and more fulfilling. Nellie, on the other hand, is someone who wanders into Hollywood and completely, accidentally gets a starring role out of pure luck. As the film progresses, we see each character climb and fall down this ladder in various different ways.

All of the aforementioned performances are absolutely incredible. Brad Pitt as Conrad feels like a very easy choice as a good-looking and suave movie star of the golden age who is getting older by the minute and knows it, but he taps into some really dark places here and balances charm with a truly melancholic undertone to that of the forgotten movie-star. Margot Robbie also perfectly embodies the up-and-coming star, as it feels like she was herself not too long ago. She delivers all the charm you’d come to expect from her at this point in her career, but also manages to dig into some pretty dark and emotional places. Diego Calva is possibly the stand-out of the entire film, as he nearly outshines the likes of Pitt and Robbie with a truly captivating and emotional performance that commands the screen everytime he appears. The supporting cast is far too large to name and credit everyone who does good work, but Jovan Adepo, Li Jun Li, Jean Smart, and Tobey Maguire (who I have never been more scared of) all turn in fantastic work and extremely memorable performances.

However, the true star of the film is Chazelle’s direction, as he commands every single frame with such detail and an absolutely immaculate lens. This is by far his craziest, most ambitious film to date and feels simultaneously right up his alley, as well as completely new and unlike anything he’s ever done before. There are so many set-pieces here that are unlike anything I’ve ever seen before; so many sequences that go on for so long, with so much going on, that they should never work – and yet, they still somehow manage to knock it out of the park by the end. This is absolutely one of, if not the most, ambitious film I’ve seen this year – and it mostly, entirely succeeds at everything it sets out to do. Sure, there are some moments where it feels like it’s biting off a bit more than it can chew and at times the third act in particular feels out of left-field, but Babylon absolutely soars off of pure energy, emotion, ambition, and sheer entertainment value. The final sequence in particular is one of the most blatant home-runs I’ve seen in years; an immaculate finale for one of the best films of the year.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s