Babel was an appopriate film for the closing gala of the Dubai International Film Festival - both the film and the event meant well, really wanted to impress on the world stage but something was lost in the execution. Which is not to say that Babel is a bad film. But it could have been improved.
This story - of how one woman (Cate Blanchett) getting shot in Morocco has global repercussions - tries it hand at the old trick of running multiple storylines, in this case across multiple countries, and the links between the narratives soon become apparent. That was the problem - the connections between stories were telegraphed too soon which then left the viewer feeling as if they knew it all and were merely left waiting for the resolutions, who was going to live, who was going to die and there were no real twists or surprises. Tarantino has jumped the shark in recent years but Pulp Fiction truly sets the standard for that sort of scripting.
And the Japanese part of the story seemed somewhat beside the point. Despite this, it was an excellently told and shot part of the film. In many ways it was the most creative part of the film because they didn't have the luxury of relying on vast Moroccan landscapes, wide-eyed blonde kids, a trashy but weirdly romantic Mexican wedding, or the shock value of a bloodstained Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt as her increasingly aggravated husband. But it could have stood alone as a short film or been further developed as a feature film in its own right. It was touching and beautiful but wasted in Babel.
Still, Brad Pitt was excellent as the man who just wants his wife to get medical help amid stupid political wrangling. He is a better actor when he scruffs up, forgets to shave and relies on talent rather than on his dimples, irritating megawatt grin or twinkling, boyish eyes. My taxi companion on the way home was disturbed by a scene where he passionately kisses his wounded wife while helping her do a wee, but on reflection, it was a rather tender scene. Cate Blanchett's role as Pitt's wife could have been played by any actress who is adept at lying around, whimpering and bleeding, and her American accent had the odd lapse back into Australian. Not her best work. She was far better in Little Fish where she played a recovered drug addict trying to sort out her life in probably the worst suburb of Sydney for anyone tempted by illegal substances. And there she could let loose with an accent as broad as the Nullabor Plain.
The kids were excellent too - all of them. The two young actors who played Ahmed and Yussef, Moroccan kids who end up in adult-sized hot water, were brilliant. The all-American blonde kids were great too (and cute kids in films usually bother me no end). The boy in particular was heartbreakngly convincing when he realised he was in a dangerous situation on the US-Mexican border and he cried and cried. The only kid actor I've seen outshine this was the little boy in The Hours who achieved an incredible look of sheer devastation when his mother, played by the fantastic Julianne Moore, drives out of sight.
Babel is by no means a dreadful film and in many ways a worthwhile film but I can't thinking it might have had more impact with a ruthless editor and a sharper scriptwriter.