Alejandro González Iñárritu and Guillermo Arriaga (who have sadly had a falling-out) may be one of the most formidable creative teams in the industry. Without resorting to cheap sentiments or preaching, Iñárritu crafts a quietly compelling follow-up to "21 Grams," with an introspective look at the interlaced lives after a tragedy.
Two boys in Morocco buy a rifle, and while testing it out, they strike a passing tourist bus. Unfortunately, the bullet strikes a vacationing American woman (Cate Blanchett), in the middle of a rural area with no real medical facilities. Unable to be transported, the woman and her husband (Brad Pitt) are dropped off in a rural village, to await help.
Unknowingly, the boys have triggered off shattering events in other people's lives across the world -- a troubled, deaf Japanese girl (Rinko Kikuchi) causes a commotion, and the police find that this neglected, lonely teen is the daughter of the man who originally had the boys' rifle. And the American couple's nanny (Adriana Barraza) is delayed going to her son's wedding, and attempts to bring the children into Mexico with her -- with disastrous results.
"Babel" is like a series of completely different photographs, but with the same person in the background. These haunting looks at how lives can be changed in an instant -- and the effects of violence, whether malicious or careless -- makes up the last volume of Iñárritu and Arriaga's "Death Trilogy." It illustrates death with the fragility of life.
But it's also about the difficulty of communicating in the modern world. You can talk to someone across the world, but sometimes never communicate -- cultures, languages, race, and disabilities can divide people, such as when the border police rush to rescue the American kids, but are callous to the kindly nanny merely because she is not a citizen.
And Iñárritu knows how to capture the right feel for the movie, even to giving it shaky, rough cinematography. There's a feeling of powerful emotion even in small scenes, such as Pitt starting to crumble as he makes a phone call. And the movie moves seamlessly from the rocky, dusty Morocco to the flashy, frenetic Tokyo to the relaxed San Diego.
Blanchett and Pitt are at the center of the movie (in that order), and both are excellent. Blanchett gives a stunning performance as the critically wounded wife, and Pitt acquits himself well as her anguished husband, as they rediscover their love under duress. Blanchett's performance should definitely garner her an Oscar next year -- and heads should roll if she isn't even nominated!
But the supporting cast is also excellent, particularly Kikuchi as the rebellious teenager, who feels isolated from the world around her, and is still grieving from her mother's tragic death. So she acts out sexually. And Barraza gives a solid performance as the nanny, in a nightmarish situation that is particularly haunting because it really happens.
It may comment on the lack of communication between cultures and people, but "Babel" is so compelling in its acting and visuals that it could easily have been a silent film. A brilliant, thought-provoking movie, and one that deserves to be seen.