It may be ambitious and sprawling to a fault, but Chazelle’s bravura direction and the top performances all-round keep this largely fictional tale of ‘20s and ‘30s Hollywood brimming with infectious energy.
Dir. Damien Chazelle
2022 | USA | Drama/Comedy | 185min | 2.39:1 | English & various other languages
R21 (passed clean) for strong and crude sexual content, graphic nudity, bloody violence, drug use, and pervasive language.
Cast: Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Diego Calva
Plot: A tale of outsized ambition and outrageous excess, it traces the rise and fall of multiple characters during an era of unbridled decadence and depravity in early Hollywood.
Awards: Won Best Original Score & Nom. for 4 Golden Globes – Best Picture (Comedy/Musical), Best Leading Actor, Best Leading Actress & Best Supporting Actor
Distributor: United International Pictures
Subject Matter: Moderate – Hollywood in Transition (Silent Era to Talkies); Decadence & Excess; Dreams & Ambition
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
Viewed: In Theatres – Projector X: Picturehouse
Babylon is a banger from Damien Chazelle, who elevates himself from one of the most exciting Hollywood directors to emerge in the last decade, to a bonafide generational talent. He hasn’t even turned 40 yet.
Despite receiving mixed reviews (and I do feel it is sometimes too ambitious and sprawling to a fault), Babylon reveals another side of Chazelle, a fearless filmmaker who just wants to go all out with his vision, indulgence and all. His approach here is one of pure maximalism—a high-energy, full-throttle style that rarely lets up during its three-hour runtime.
Set in the ‘20s and ‘30s Hollywood as silent cinema transits into ‘talkies’, Babylon follows a myriad of characters, most prominently the ones played by Margot Robbie, Brad Pitt, and the relative newcomer Diego Calva, as they navigate the highs and lows of studio moviemaking.
“I am a star.”
If Chazelle’s earlier films were about chasing your dreams, Babylon further builds on the theme but goes into darker territory. One nightmarish sequence, in particular, feels like a cross between Fellini Satyricon (1969) and Irreversible (2002). The tone of Babylon, however, is almost always teetering towards comic absurdity, and the characters subconsciously seem to relish it.
It’s a fun film to watch with a crowd, though I suspect cinephiles with a stronger connection to early Hollywood history would resonate with it better, however fictitious some of its scenarios are. They would surely lap up its epilogue, which recalls that of a charming little Indian film, Last Film Show (2021), in terms of approach.
With top performances all-round (Robbie is truly gifted and brimming with infectious energy) and bravura direction from Chazelle, Babylon sparkles more than buckles under its own weight of expectations.