A beautifully depressing film, Babel is the third collaboration between writer Guillermo Arriaga and director Alejandro Gonzalez Innarritu, and continues with their themes on responsibility, redemption, and, ultimately, that there are consequences to people's actions, regardless of who they are and where they live.
This time, however, the canvas is much bigger, crisscrossing between three different continents, as the bright lights and color of Tokyo clashes with the dirt and sand of Morocco and Mexico.
The movie begins in a small village in Morocco, where a farmer assigns his two young sons to hunt for wild jackals while he is gone for the day. But instead of following their father’s instructions, the boys decide to test the value of their weapon by shooting at a far off tour bus.
The bullet hits American tourist Susan (Cate Blanchett) who is traveling with her husband Richard (Brad Pitt). He in turn struggles with the local authorities and his embassy, which cannot send help due to zoning restrictions.
In America, Richard and Susan's two children are taken care of by Amelia (Adriana Barraza), an illegal Mexican immigrant who has lived in the USA for 16 years. Not able to attend her sons wedding in Mexico and take care of the children at the same time, she decides to find a replacement but to no avail. Desperate she takes the children with her along with her nephew Santiago (Gel Garcia Bernal).
Meanwhile an investigation into the origin of the rifle used in the shooting in Morocco leads to former Japanese hunter Yasujiro (Koji Yakusho), who now lives in Tokyo with his deaf teenage daughter, Chietko (Rinko Kikuchi). She has begun experimenting with alcohol and drugs, while surrendering herself sexually to all different types of suitors, believing that the only way to feel companionship is through physical contact.
The film presses the need to improve on the most basic of human traits which is communication, and how one man/woman can feel isolated and alone in a foreign land.
The ensemble cast is excellent and features fine performances by Cate Blanchett and Gael Garcia Bernal, but the stand outs are Brad Pitt, Adriana Barraza and Rinko Kikuchi. All three are exceptional, Pitt once again shedding his sex symbol status delivering an emotionally gripping portrayal of a man struggling to keep his wife alive. Meanwhile, both Barraza and Kikuchi seem to have come out of nowhere to produce two of the finest performances of the year, Kikuchi especially with a touching, bare all achievement.
The only question now is to ask, what's next? Three movies in a row have seen Arriaga and Innarritu deliver complex pieces of work which although powerful and poignant, it is starting to get a bit repetitive. A change in direction is needed for both artists, and with both men in an (unfortunate) professional squabble at the moment, perhaps parting ways and trying different things is for the better.