I think I’m going to see Babel tonight (it opens today in Philadelphia), but these snippets from a review by David Edelstein (one of my favorites, especially in his Slate days) have me worried:
The vocabulary of mainstream movies has changed radically in the past decade: Now, when filmmakers leap back and forth in time, radically shift perspectives, juxtapose narrative lines with no apparent connection, and withhold key information, audiences rarely question what they’re seeing. Maybe they ought to. In their last collaboration, 21 Grams, the director Alejandro González Iñárritu and screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga did syntactical acrobatics to disguise what a dreary and exploitive little soap opera they’d made. Their new movie, Babel, is more mysterious and less coherent.
The theme appears to be Americans who are scarily vulnerable in the impoverished Third World—but what does that disturbed Japanese girl have to do with anything? There is a connection, it turns out, but a tenuous one, and when the filmmakers start playing fancy tricks with the timeline, you might be tempted to throw up your hands. Tricky storytelling is an irritant when you can’t trust the storyteller.
I’m in complete agreement with his assesment of 21 Grams, and I usually find that Edelstein’s taste matches up with mine — which is really a nice thing to have as a watcher of movies who loves to read reviews.