From Damien Chazelle, Babylon is an original epic set in 1920s Los Angeles led by Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie and Diego Calva, with an ensemble cast including Jovan Adepo, Li Jun Li and Jean Smart. 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.
What We Thought:
Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash is one of my favorite films of the 2010s. His La La Land is absolutely delightful. Despite its issues and controversy, overall I enjoyed First Man. Needless to say with a cast that includes Margot Robbie, Brad Pitt and more, I was pretty excited for his latest film Babylon. A movie about old Hollywood from a great filmmaker seemed right up my alley. Unfortunately it’s not good. It’s shockingly not good.
Babylon opens well, well minus the very beginning elephant scenes. It puts you in an old Hollywood party with nudity, drugs and decadence. We are introduced to Brad Pitt’s character. We are introduced to Margot Robbie’s character and the third lead, Diego Calva as Manny. The party is loud and chaotic. Robbie dances and shines and gets noticed enough to replace another actress in a silent film.
Then it shows us how old silent films were made and it’s still chaotic and crazy. But at least all that was interesting. You get a glimpse of not only old Hollywood, but old Hollywood filmmaking. It’s pretty cool actually. Then it dies for the next three hours. Yes that says THREE HOURS. Three hours of transitioning from silent films to talkies and character development that isn’t needed.
At 90 minutes into it I almost left. I should have. I try not to walk out of movies because that’s not being professional, but I should have saved myself the next 90 plus minutes. Somehow the chaotic and wild opening goes into boring, monotonous storytelling. Robbie does an accent like she’s still doing Harley Quinn and practically overacts the entire 3 hours. Pitt is ok at best, but seems to be mailing in his performance. Calva is fine as you see him rise in the industry, but nothing about it seems necessary at 3 hours plus. It’s a slog to get through and at one point I lifted up my armrest and laid across a few seats to get comfy while watching it.
The biggest issue is how random it is. Whose film is it? Is it Robbie’s? Pitt’s? Calva’s? What about the jazz player who comes and goes throughout the three plus hours? What is the point of most of Tobey Maguire’s scenes? If you want to show us how crazy Hollywood was back then, the first 20 minutes took care of that for you. Give us a story, not a bunch of vignettes.
Then there is the ending. It honestly might be the worst ending in film history. This movie takes place in the 1920s and 1930s, but somehow has movie clips from other decades and blank screens with multiple colors and so much noise. It’s an onslaught on the senses, but not in the fun way. I had pretty much given up on the film already and then bam you get hit with colors and montages and basically a bunch of noise pollution.
I saw Babylon two weeks ago at this point and I’m still baffled at how much I hated it. Damien Chazelle was pretty much 3 for 3 with me prior, now I don’t care if he ever makes another film. I might be more baffled at the people claiming this is a good movie. It’s not even a movie, it’s just nonsense strung together to show how decadent and depraved it all was. To steal a thought from a friend, Babylon is what happens when you give a filmmaker free will and the studio doesn’t step in and give it an edit. That’s a perfect explanation because maybe somewhere in it is a good movie, cut an hour off it and tighten the storylines and you might have a cohesive film, but as is, it just isn’t good despite what others are saying.