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Movie Review: Babel

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Babel – "A confusion of sounds or voices." It's a term often used but rarely explored. That is until now…

In the latest edition to a growing genre of movies that focus on a universal theme and the way in which it unifies a group of otherwise unrelated individuals, Babel tells the tale of an American tourist who is shot while abroad in Morocco and the rippling effects it has on four different groups worldwide. But beyond the incident itself these characters also share a human flaw that transcends geographical borders. It is a failure, and sometimes even an unwillingness, to communicate, and Babel exposes this societal Achilles' heal by showing us how sometimes speech can be less of a means of communication and more "a confusion of sounds or voices." But such a theme should only be taken so far.

The movie opens with a Moroccan family, but don't let that fool you into thinking that chronologically this is the first event to take place. The father is negotiating the purchase of a gun for his sons so they can chase the Jackals away. But boys will be boys and soon enough these brothers are involved in a game of "who has better aim."

That takes us to our next set of characters. Richard [Brad Pitt] and Susan [Cate Blanchett] are an American couple traveling through Morocco when their tour bus becomes the target of this sibling competition. Susan is shot in the shoulder and as her life hangs in the balance the world sets its sights on the "terrorists responsible for the shooting of an American tourist."

Meanwhile, or maybe it is days later [the audience isn't exactly privy to that information], Richard and Susan's children are back home in San Diego. They are under the care of Amelia [Adriana Barraza], their nanny, who despite an obvious devotion to her surrogate children was planning on taking the night off to attend her son's wedding in Mexico. But with their parents still abroad, Amelia is forced to take the kids with her. And although the trip only takes them a few hours south, the children, who in an interesting twist speak fluent Spanish, find themselves navigating through a world that is completely foreign to them.

The last of our four story lines follows Chieko [Rinko Kikucki], a Japanese teenager whose desperation to fit in is only further fueled by her inability to hear. And although her story was only loosely connected to the others it provided an insightful perspective on the concept of communication. As a deaf teenager, Chieko, epitomizes the concept of isolation rooted in a breakdown in communication. There was, in particular, one scene that I felt embodied both Chieko's personal struggle and the meaning behind the film itself. It is set in a Japanese dance club and as the audience visually becomes immersed in a sea of sex and drugs, the audio track is periodically muted out. And as I sat in the theater it was as though the silence washed over me and I was, for a moment, exposed to another world – a world without sound – Chieko's world.

At a time when Hollywood seems more interested in making a statement rather than entertaining its audiences, Babel certainly fits the bill. It has a profound message, but for this reviewer that simply isn't enough. Babel misses the mark and falls short of movies like Crash because it fails to provide a logical and coherent connection between the stories it tells and the timeline with which it tells them. And in the end Babel , like its characters, is a victim of poor communication.

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