Babylon Film Review

REVIEWS Brian Penn


 
 
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The popular image of Tinseltown and Hollywood glitter is one of wholesome, high kicking starlets and lantern jawed leading men. But the reality was somewhat different as the gloss of a bygone era has slowly rubbed away. This film by Damien Chazelle reveals a tale of debauchery and excess underneath the squeaky clean image sold to an adoring public. Hollywood's transition from silent movies to the talkies is a well-trodden path. This version leaves nothing to the imagination and has been questioned by some. But who can say how far people would go in pursuit of power, fame and wealth?

 

Babylon begins in 1926, the year before the Jazz Singer ushered in the talkie era. The focus falls on three characters eager to make their mark in a rapidly changing film industry. Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt) is an established star who fears his best days are behind him; Nellie LaRoy (Margot Robbie) is an ultra-confident wannabe actor on every party list and Manny Torres (Diego Calva), a willing gofer who will do anything to get a foot into films. Nellie quickly talks her way into a film role, but cannot control the vices that are part of the job description. Manny is smitten by Nellie and rubs shoulders with the underworld to straighten her out. He dreams of making her a clean cut film star in the vanguard of a new Hollywood. As the 1930s dawn Jack fights for acceptance in the talkies but has his time now passed?

 

Babylon is a beautifully shot and faultlessly executed film that could easily scoop the technical Oscars. A dazzling jazz tinged soundtrack also complements some stunning visuals. Margot Robbie looks beautiful and totally nails the role of Nellie. She dominates the film's funniest moments, particularly when trying to shoot a scene continually disrupted by outside noises. Brad Pitt delivers a satisfying turn as the matinee idol clinging to a fading reputation.

 

However, for a film that runs to three hours and nine minutes, it has to justify the additional screen time. And that is the problem as a sprawling mass robs the story of any real coherence. There are some brilliant set pieces that genuinely have the wow factor. But too many scenes feel superfluous and self-indulgent. A brutal editor's cut would have served it much better. Even so the film has its moments; but you might be begging for the closing credits to roll by the end?