Babylon Review: The dark side of Hollywood’s golden age revealed in this visual, yet empty, stunner
“Babylon,” the latest offering from filmmaker Damien Chazelle, is a masterclass in technical precision, with stunning cinematography, a top-notch score, and a talented ensemble cast led by the ever-fearless Margot Robbie and the standout performance of Brad Pitt. The film, set in 1920s Hollywood, is a lavish period piece that delves into the behind-the-scenes world of filmmaking, painting a picture of the hard work, broken dreams, and sheer luck that goes into creating the silver screen magic we all love.
The film follows the ascent of three outsiders, Manny Torres (Diego Calva), Sidney (Jovan Adepo), and Nellie LaRoy (Margot Robbie), as they navigate the complexities of Hollywood’s golden age. Chazelle’s tapestry approach focuses on the rising arcs of these characters as they become power players in their ways. Whether it’s Nellie’s captivating screen presence, Sidney’s musical talent, or Manny’s intelligence, each character can shine. However, what they soon learn is that the Hollywood machine is not as forgiving as it seems and that they are just as disposable as the equipment used to shoot the films.
Pitt’s performance as Jack Conrad, a silent film star on the brink of fame, is the film’s standout. He brought a sense of melancholy and lost glory that is relatable and haunting. The entire film is elevated by the depth he brings to the story, a depth that is sometimes lacking in other areas.
The film is a feast for the eyes, with Linus Sandgren’s fluid cinematography giving it much of its momentum and Justin Hurwitz’s score being a standout of the year. The production design strikes the perfect balance between being genuine and larger than life. At the same time, the ensemble cast, including Jean Smart, Lukas Haas, Olivia Wilde, Spike Jonze, Jeff Garlin, and Flea, flirts on the edges of the story.
However, the film is not without its shortcomings. The script, while ambitious, is at times unfocused, and the narrative elements can feel hollow. The intercutting of the stories sometimes feels like it gets away from the editor, Tom Cross, but that’s more a product of Chazelle’s script than anything in the editing room. Additionally, the film raises questions about the price of success and whether or not it’s all worth it, but the answer is not so clear-cut.
Overall, “Babylon” is a film of stunning parts, but the magic touch needed to pull everything together is lacking. It’s a “feel-bad” Hollywood movie that is unapologetically raw, but sometimes it feels like the filmmakers are rubbing your face in elephant shit rather than pulling back the curtain. Despite its shortcomings, the film is a testament to Chazelle’s commitment and his team’s craftsmanship, making it a must-see for fans of technical proficiency and Hollywood history.
RATING: 2.0 out of 5.0