Starring: Margot Robbie, Diego Calva, Brad Pitt, Jean Smart, Jovan Adepo, and Li Jun Li
Director: Damien Chazelle
I've never been on drugs, but I'm fairly certain that the cinematic experience of Babylon is what a heavy trip feels like. This thing is wild. From the opening scene, it kicks into high gear and stays on that track for over three hours. The cast is stacked too, with a few performances worthy of awards consideration (Margot Robbie, in particular, is excellent). Director Damien Chazelle may have made yet another film about dreamers, but this one is easily his most chaotic, which really works in the film’s favour. Babylon fires on all cylinders, and is another dynamite addition to Chazelle's already impressive resume.
Babylon is a lot. Writer/director Damien Chazelle attempts to do way too much, which leaves some of the results being underbaked. Even with a 3-hour runtime, interesting key characters and themes don’t feel completely fleshed out, leaving the film feeling bloated. However, on a technical aspect, I have no notes for Chazelle. The atmosphere is debaucherous and energetic, led to perfection by Diego Calva and Margot Robbie, and the absurdity never feels like it’s extreme for the sake of being extreme. Instead, it contributes to the film’s message regarding the beauty and, most importantly, the ugliness of Hollywood.
Babylon is three hours of unfiltered, unfettered chaos, but it’s the quiet moments that are the loudest. Margot Robbie, Brad Pitt, and Diego Calva all command the screen, but it’s Li Jun Li and Jovan Adepo that command your attention. Director Damien Chazelle crafted a decadent, outrageous, and hilariously exorbitant love letter to the magic and mayhem of Hollywood, but it’s one of the final shots on a singular face that will mean the most to movie lovers. Come for the crazy, stay for the silence, but whatever you connect to, just sit back and let it wash over you.
Babylon wants to be a kinetic, drug-fueled ride through Old Hollywood, but, instead, it's a lifeless and empty 3-hour drag. Director Damien Chazelle attempts a film in the vein of Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street or Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights, but the thing that made those films so successful was the characters that inhabited the intoxicating nights and heightened debauchery. However, in Babylon, I didn't care for any of the characters, with each one feeling like a boring stereotype. I could see where their story was going within the first 15 minutes of the film.
Babylon as a whole feels like an empty affair. Though technically dazzling, director Damien Chazelle’s impressive cinematography and production design aren’t enough to cover what is essentially a run-of-the-mill Old Hollywood story with little new to add. The opening scenes of depravity and debauchery start the film with a jolt of energy before losing momentum in the second act, ending with a heavy-handed montage dedicated to the power of cinema. At three hours, it’s a roller-coaster ride of a movie, and for better or for worse, Babylon feels its length, which will leave some viewers in a state of confusion as the credits roll.
Damien Chazelle’s Babylon may be his most ambitious, daring, and passionate movie to date, and whether it’s stronger or weaker than his other films should be of little consequence to those who manage to make it to the credits. The first half is a cacophonous hurricane of sex, sound, and pure energy, while the second half is about the slow but steady demise of stardom, yet Margot Robbie and Diego Calva carry it all the way to the finish. Linus Sandgren’s cinematography delights in the long shot, and Justin Hurwitz’ mammoth score (specifically “Voodoo Mama”) may be the best piece of music I’ve heard this year.