Somewhere down the crazy river there’s a little shack where screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga (Amores Perros, 21 Grams) churns out his indentikit scripts. This is how he does it. He looks at his holiday snaps, and then he imagines a catastrophic event, say a car crash or a shooting, that will connect a large group of characters over several different borders. Then he writes a load of vignettes around sets of one or two of these characters, always keeping in mind that some of these roles need to go to big name US stars who have made a few turkeys recently. For extra effect he underlines everything with some adolescent message about connections or something like that and then he prays that all the time shifts fit together. When it works it’s great; when it doesn’t it’s grating. Babel unfortunately falls into the latter category, with its Morrocan, American/Mexican and Japanese settings featuring megastars Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Gael Garcia Bernal and Japanese starlet Rinko Kikuchi and lots of less well known actors. The results are uneven: the sections in Morocco without Pitt and Blanchett about two rural kids and their new gun are fantastic, and remind one of what a gifted, naturalistic filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu is. The same can be said of the odd, spacey, transient Japanese sections featuring Kikuchi as a profoundly deaf teenager who desperately wants a sexual experience.
The rest is clichéd nonsense. This is the type of film that reaches for significance despite being built on a house of sand and fog. In the Bible, Genesis 11: 1-9 the attempt to build the Tower of Babel angered God so much that he made each person involved speak a different language which ultimately halted the project and scattered his people across the planet. The analogies are embarrassingly obvious, but association with the Hebrew verb ‘balal’ - ‘to confuse or confound’ etymologises the word Babel, and this Arriaga and Iñárritu do in spades.