Damien Chazelle is one of those few directors you either love or hate. While most of us agree on the masterclass that is “Whiplash”, the opinions on “La La Land” and “First Man” are much more divided. His newest movie, “Babylon,” will divide the opinions even more. Some of you will find it a dazzling, exuberant and fantastic masterpiece, while others feel that this movie is all about glitter and glamour and not about a thrilling story. Want to know which side we’re on? Continue to read!
The film industry can be extremely rough. Whether it’s beginning actors and filmmakers, who are still dreaming of their first breakthroughs or famous people, who have already made a name for themselves in Hollywood, Hollywood can take you in or spit you out in the blink of an eye.
Wanna-be director Manny Torres (Diego Calva) and aspiring actress Nellie LaRoy (Margot Robbie) live in the City of Angels. They are invited to one of the most sophisticated and drug- and sex-fuelled parties. Another big name on the guestlist is Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt), an actor who has already starred in many silent films. Three people from completely different backgrounds but with one mutual dream: Conquering Hollywood.
They all succeed in that. Manny by showing everyone around him how intelligent, talented and patient he is while having to deal with prejudices towards Mexican Americans. Nellie makes her film debut as a last-minute replacement for an actress and instantly shows the world her acting and dancing talent. All that while, Jack continues making films, marrying women and speaking Italian (not very well, though). However, their luck is running out. The racial abuse towards Manny heightens, Nelly spirals out of control, and Jack isn’t the actor he thought he was. Will they be able to get their lives back on track, or is Hollywood done with them?
Throughout the years, we’ve seen many films honouring the 70s in Hollywood. Think of great movies such as “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” and “Hollywood Boulevard”. “Babylon” could have easily been as good as those. If only the story wouldn’t have been so overcomplicated and overambitious.
Besides the above-described storylines, there are a few more. In this movie, we also see Sidney Palmer (Jovan Adepo), a young black musician who wants to give movies the sound they deserve, and Lady Fay Zhu (Li Jun Li), a famous, intriguing and well-respected dancer who certainly adds a more secretive vibe to this movie. Yes, all characters are connected in one way or another, but Chazelle keeps adding subplot after subplot, making us forget what the film is really about.
The movie has a 3hr 09min runtime, which would be enough time for Chazelle to create an in-depth story. However, due to the many subplots, he doesn’t succeed in that. This results in both the movie and the characters feeling flat. That being said, every actor in this top-notch cast is doing everything they can to give the character a lot of personality.
Robbie (“The Suicide Squad”, “Birds Of Prey”) puts on the most magnetic performance in this movie. Whether with fantastic dancing, an outburst of anger and despair, her character enjoying the lifestyle of the rich and famous or Nellie fighting with a snake, she makes every scene she’s in her own. There’s even some Harley Quinn sneaking into some of the scenes.
Calva is also superb and shows us that he’s certainly ready for the big screen! His performance is far from the one he gave in “Narcos: Mexico”. While his character is undoubtedly underdeveloped, he perfectly gives Manny the personality, dedication, passion for film and eagerness he deserves. While Pitt (“Bullet Train”, “Ad Astra”) provides a humoristic, intense and complicated performance as the leading man of Hollywood, he’s being over-classed (and rightly so) by Robbie and Calva.
Like in his previous movies, Chazelle knows how to create the perfect dynamic, atmosphere and setting. Linus Sandgren (“No Time to Die”, “Battle of the Sexes”) his very fluent cinematography gives this film a lot of power and momentums. There are many one-takes, especially during glamourous parties, and if you add the stunning score of Justin Hurwitz (“La La Land”, “Whiplash”) to it, the cinematography becomes highly effective.
Speaking of Hurwitz’s score, it’s the best one of the year: Upbeat, vibrant and nerve-wracking. The score certainly adds awesomeness to the film and the characters. While Tom Cross (“The Greatest Showman”, “Joy”) is a man of many talents, his editing in “Babylon” is just not there, which is mainly due to the many storylines and the over-the-top vibe. And what was that final montage anyway?
When watching “Babylon”, it’s clear that Chazelle spared no expense or effort whatsoever. The exuberant scenes, the dazzling cinematography, the top-notch actors and the incredibly upbeat score. It’s just a shame that he overdoes it when it comes to the storyline. Too long and way too many different directions, resulting in a movie that can’t grab our attention for the entire runtime.
20th January 2023
THE QUICK SELL
A tale of outsized ambition and outrageous excess, it traces the rise and fall of multiple characters during an era of unbridled decadence and depravity in early Hollywood.