Review: Babylon

Title: Babylon
Director: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Diego Calva
MPAA Rating: R
Runtime: 3 hr 9 mins

What It Is: A tale of outsized ambition and outrageous excess, it traces the rise and fall of multiple characters during an era of unbridled decadence and depravity in early Hollywood.

What We Think: This. This is what happens when an artist is allowed to be completely free. Known for his previous smash hits Whiplash and La La LandDamien Chazelle’s filmography just got a lot more daring with Babylon – going above and beyond to bring us an incredible epic about the ever-changing landscape of film, those who look to the screen for something more, and those who are something more. Unequivocally, its a theatrical experience that thrills – a glass full of a bloodied romantic, stirring and maniacal  substance that nearly comes close to overflowing

Sizzling at the forefront of what is an absolutely insane production are Margot Robbie, Diego Calva, and Brad Pitt – along with notable cast members Li Jun Li, Jovan Adepo and Jean Smart. Not a dull moment to be found anywhere. Robbie is an energetic powerhouse of emotion, Calva left me pondering as to how we’ve haven’t seen him in more projects (because he’s fantastic), and Pitt brilliantly portrays the most vital character in the story and is a conduit for what the film is trying to tell. A star-studded cast that leaves no room onscreen – everyone fits into their characters perfectly.

And perfection is what Chazelle and his team strive for here – Babylon was something conceived over a decade ago, and one can tell it’s a meticulously crafted film both visually and sonorously. The cinematography is marvelous, as Linus Sandgren’s bleeding images stream onscreen from gorgeous Kodak film stock you get the delectable treat that is celluloid and its light processing capabilities, dousing our characters in colorful images that will leave you in awe. And what better accomplice to those frames than another masterful score from Justin Hurwitz? Some will recognize hints of his jazz-orientated Whiplash score, or echoes of the orchestrated pieces from La La Land and First Man, but this time around there’s a pounding rhythm that almost acts as the film’s heartbeat for its enticing, wicked dance. Which, if I may add, is something that will make you do more than lightly tap your feet.

The main fluke that Babylon would seem to have (and what I have been seeing across other reviews) would be its length and story, which indeed can take a toll for the unwilling or unprepared – be wary. This is not your beat by beat period piece that glides gracefully between time periods, no, it smashes and stumbles and yells and shrieks its way through an almost decade-long tale of monumental changes in film history, along with the highs and lows of the characters within it. For those who sigh and shake their heads at “another movie about Hollywood”, you’re looking in the wrong place. Sure, Hollywood does play a part in this story, but its not the central focus. The historical aspects are present, with outstanding production/costume design like no other film about this era has done before… and below the ravishing technicolor fever dream of Babylon, there are themes of existentialism, transience, and of course depravity (which Brad Pitt’s character evokes the most, he’s one of my favorite parts about the film). Babylon offers a sincere argument on how the pictures of yesteryear will be remembered – will the ones who brought life to the screen live on? They will. They will indeed. Even in the ever-changing landscape of this (still young) art form, they’ll outlive it all.

Our Grade: A; Chazelle’s army succeeds in retelling a dark chapter in film history, while navigating the lives of a handful of intriguing characters amidst breathtaking visuals and tremendous performances. While it is quite the wild ride, its one that film-goers should appreciate for how completely unapologetic it is – for better or for worse.