The latest from director Alejandro González Iñárritu and writer Guillermo Arriaga ("21 Grams", "Amores Perros"), "Babel" (which is one of this year's nominees for Best Picture) opens with a family in Morocco buying a gun so that they can protect their sheep from jackals. One son decides to test out the range of the rifle, aiming it towards a tour bus that happens to be passing by far down the road.
The movie then cuts to America, where Amelia (Adriana Barraza), an illegal immigrant housekeeper, is taking care of Mike (Nathan Gamble) and Debbie (Elle Fanning). When it appears as if she'll have to stay with the kids on the day of her son's wedding, she decides to take them to Mexico with her nephew, Santiago (Gael Garcia Bernal).
Back in Morocco, American couple Susan (Cate Blanchett) and Richard (Brad Pitt) are on the tour bus that was shot at and Susan is badly injured. We're also introduced to Chieko (Rinko Kakuchi), a deaf teen girl in Japan who lives with her widowed father. Trying to find affection or even just contact, she uses her sexuality. Elsewhere, Richard scrambles to find Susan care and the incident is called a terrorist attack. In Mexico after the wedding, Amelia runs into trouble on her way back across the border, and the children (Richard and Susan's) wind up in an unthinkable situation as they struggle to find their way back home.
The stories are meant to connect with one another and show both the breakdown in communication in today's increasingly divided world and the effect that one's actions can have on the lives of others they're not even aware of. As for the connections, while the story of the Nanny, of the couple and of the Moroccan family fit together, the story of the teen in Japan - while well-acted - doesn't connect to the rest as securely and could have been deleted in order to shorten the overlong running time. While the stories are connected in the film, they are never really pulled together well as a whole and I got the feeling that I was watching four short films that had been sewn together instead of four stories that were a perfectly interlocking whole
The film's frequent cutting between the stories didn't work for me, either: the jumps are often jarring and resulted in a feeling of detachment from the film that was furthered by its rather chilly, subdued demeanor. The performances are generally good (Pitt and Kikuchi highlights) although it's a credit to the actors in this case, as the script really doesn't develop the characters enough.
Overall, while I appreciated elements of "Babel" (performances, cinematography, some stretches of each story), the great pieces end up adding up to an uneven whole.
VIDEO: "Babel" is presented by Paramount in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. This was one of the best presentations of a recent theatrical release from the studio in recent memory. Sharpness and detail remained excellent throughout much of the film, save for a couple of slightly soft moments on occasion.
The picture did not show any instances of artifacting, but there were a few slight instances of edge enhancement. Some minor grain was occasionally seen, but appeared to be an intentional element of the cinematography. Colors looked vivid and perfectly saturated, with no smearing or other issues. Black level remained strong, while flesh tones looked accurate and natural.
SOUND: "Babel" is presented by Paramount in Dolby Digital 5.1. The film's sound design was, as one might expect, largely dialogue-driven. The surrounds do kick in do offer some mild ambience, occasional reinforcement of the score and a few sound effects, but the majority of the audio is spread across the front speakers. Audio quality was fine, with crisp dialogue and a rich, full-sounding score. Scenes in languages other than English are subtitled.
EXTRAS: The trailer. Given the film's award noms and other press, you'd think there'd be a few more supplements included.
Final Thoughts: "Babel" offers some fine performances and strong moments, but the movie spreads itself a bit thin and the stories don't weave together in an entirely satisfying manner. The DVD presentation offers excellent video quality and fine audio, but no extras. Rent it.
The Film B-