Updated: Jan 30
We’ve reached the stage of modern moviemaking where at times it feels as though creativity has been stunted. Blockbusters working off well-known intellectual property seem to be the only thing out there, as it is nearly guaranteed to garner the profit the theater industry desperately needs to stay afloat in this era of at-home streaming. Mid-tier budget original dramas appear on their way to being phased out. This is why it is so refreshing when an auteur utilizes their pull to take a real swing creatively and deviate from this proven formula. Damien Chazelle is one such figure, and he swings harder than anyone in 2022 with his most recent film, Babylon. The result is 3 hours and 8 minutes of pure insanity, culminating in a creative, yet flawed, product with some of the greatest moments of the year in cinema.
Directed by Damien Chazelle, the film delves into the film industry during the late 1920s into the 1930s, focusing in on figures at different levels of the business. This includes a young up and coming actress trying to make a name for herself(Margot Robbie), a complete unknown trying to be a part of the film industry in any way(Diego Calva), and the biggest star around at his peak(Brad Pitt). The entire cast is excellent, but Robbie deserves a shoutout as she is clearly the MVP. She is magnetic throughout, giving the performance of her career. She exhibits her full range, showcasing what true acting is all about. It’s a scenery-chewing part that she takes full advantage of, seamlessly transitioning from being the most alluring person in the room to the most repulsive.
A storyline exists here, but is inconsequential, as the film mainly functions as a vibe. This is a day in the life tale that offers a glimpse of what filmmaking was like during the era, letting experience after experience wash over the audience. By the end the audience may feel overwhelmed due to the constant pedal-to-the-metal mentality, but there is much to enjoy, notably the scenes involving the production of movies. Perhaps the best part of the film is Justin Hurwitz’s bombastic score that proves to further intensify the experience, continuing to build throughout and culminating in a climax where is has the viewer completely entranced. Additionally, the cinematography is quite well done, utilizing camera movement to add an additional layer to what’s taking place onscreen. At times it is too much(particularly some handheld shots), but overall it helps capture the frantic nature of the time. While the peaks here are sky high, the valleys can be nearly as low. This is an overly long, meandering film with plenty of scenes that should have ended up on the cutting room floor. The story really strives to drive home its message as a love letter to cinema resulting in some serious overkill, especially during its final scene.
In the end, Babylon is a story filled with passion and creativity. The acting is sublime, and the score is the best of the year. It is certainly too long and by no means does every scene work, but you must admire the ambition. Hopefully it is something that continues to happen with the next wave of directors who are growing up in this world of franchise entertainment. Chazelle reached for the stars here and came up short, but in the process creates an experience worth seeing as it at times captures the pure wonder of the artform. I give it 3.5 out of 5 stars.