I honestly don't understand how Babel got nominated for more Oscars than any other movie this year. I've been through my list of rules, and I've tried to justify the reasoning through Academy politics, but I still just don't get it.
The four interconnecting storylines were really three interconnecting storylines and one distant cousin storyline. I was actually curious about what would happen in two of the stories, while the other two just left me waiting and hoping for something more interesting.
The first story is about two Moraccan boys whose father gives them a gun to shoot jackels. Right off, we discover that Yussef (Boubker Ait El Caid) is a much better shot than his older brother, Ahmed (Said Tarchani). While taking the herd of goats out for a meal on dying grass, the boys spot a jackal. Ahmed, being too proud to admit he can't shoot, misses the jackal and blames it on the weapon. So, to prove the gun does shoot as far as it says, he challenges Yussef to shoot at a bus. This boy will grow up to be a sniper because he hits the bus with frightening accuracy, hitting Susan (Cate Blanchett) in the neck. This story was interesting to me. Would these children turn themselves in? How many people would be affected because of their mistake? Enquiring minds want to know.
What this enquiring mind really didn't care to know was what would happen to Susan and her husband Richard (Brad Pitt) in the small village they're taken to as they await an ambulance and aid from the US embassy. This story was rather dull and pretty predictable--either she was going to die in the village or she was going to be rescued. I knew nothing in between or out of the ordinary was going to happen, so let's move on to story number three.
As Richard and Susan are in Morocco, their children are at home in San Diego being cared for by Amelia (Adriana Barraza), the nanny whose legal presence in the country is a bit questionable. Due to unavoidable circumstances, Amelia must take the children across the border with her so she may attend her son's wedding. You can just feel the tension building in this story with every passing hour the children spend in Mexico. This, of the four storylines, is the most interesting to me--not because a lot actually happens but because of the anticipation of something major happening. Something major does happen, but it even falls short of engaging me fully.
Story number four is the weakest. Chieko (Rinko Kikuchi), a Japanese deaf girl, desperately wants to be normal. All day, we watch her hang out with her friends and flirt with the boys, but her frustration builds as she still feels like an outsider. Where does this fit into the other three stories, you ask? Yeah, I don't really know either. I mean, it is revealed near the end of act two, but I still don't understand the true point of its inclusion in this film. Chieko's story would've made for a better short film than an addition to this feature. I think dropping this story may have made the movie tighter and maybe a little more interesting.
Alejandro González Iñárritu has used this gimmick before, and yes, it is a gimmick. The jumble of timelines and the small connections of certain people worked well for him twice before in 21 Grams and Amores Perros. In 21 Grams, the stories and the characters find a satisfying meeting point at the close of the second act, and Amores Perros is a more fascinating and engaging movie overall. Iñárritu is a spectacular visual director, but I think he needs to try a new storytelling device. Babel really did have potential for being an interesting movie, but the lack of extended conflict and unpredictable moments overshadowed whatever message he wanted to project.
Babel simply falls short for me. It wasn't horrible, but it wasn't good, and it definitely wasn't one of the five best pictures of the year.