Babel, which has been nominated for seven Golden Globes, is far from typical Hollywood fare. It unfolds in five languages on three continents, and it has a complicated structure of four parallel stories that requires viewers to trust that everything will tie together in the end.
But the story Babel tells is well worth the effort it takes to watch it. The movie explores how the consequences of a single act ripple out around the world. But it also makes a smaller point about what makes people feel lonely, whether in foreign countries or in their own homes. To see what I mean,
Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu (21 Grams, Amores Perros), Babel starts with two Moroccan boys whose father gives them a gun. They take it up in the hills of the desert and, while horsing around, one brother dares the other to shoot at a passing tour bus. The bullet rockets through the bus window and strikes Susan (Cate Blanchett), an American traveling through the desert with her husband, Richard (Brad Pitt).
The film reaches both backward and forward from there. Richard has to figure out how to help Susan in a country where he can hardly communicate with anyone and arrange for his nanny, brilliantly played by Adriana Barraza, to stay with his children in California. A second spur of the plot traces the worldwide outrage over the shooting, as officials — seeking to prove the incident wasn't terrorism — trace the gun's origins.
Babel has its problems: At over two hours, it feels plodding in parts, and when the piece of the story set in Japan finally ties in with the rest, the connection seems far-fetched. Babel also gets so bleak at one point that I doubted I'd have the will to get out of my seat when the movie ended. But the outstanding performances, especially from Barraza and Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchi, keep Babel compelling. And by the end — which is less depressing than I'd feared — Babel reaches some interesting conclusions about how small the world really is.