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Damien Chazelle‘s latest high-profile bid at an Oscar, Babylon, is an epic charting the rise and fall of silent-era movie stars. At three hours and eight minutes, this is a truly massive film that tells multiple overlapping stories. The ensemble cast includes Diego Calva as Manny Torres, a Mexican immigrant who works his way up through the studio system, Margot Robbie as Nellie LaRoy, a star with very poor self-control, Brad Pitt as Jack Conrad, a screen hunk whose star is fading rapidly, Jovan Adepo as a jazz musician, Li Jun Li as a cabaret singer, Jean Smart as Elinor St. John, a gossip columnist and a sprawling cast of character actors, celebrity cameos and more. Most of the characters are based loosely on real stars of the era, and quite a few of the events in the film are fictionalised versions of real events.
The filmmaking technique is really quite impeccable until a rather trite final montage that almost ruins the film, but performances are good and it all looks quite stunning. Chazelle seems more than a little ambivalent about the excess he’s depicting, in a way that makes the film oddly off-putting at times. Scenes of absolute orgiastic depravity are played for their seductive glamour and characters’ libertinism is simultaneously played for laughs, shock value and ultimately tragedy. Charitably, one could read the intent as displaying a world that lures people in and then gradually corrupts them, but the “temptation” is so extreme from the outset that it’s a bit hard to relate to anyone who wouldn’t run screaming from the first party. It’s especially difficult to parse as later in the film there’s a decidedly hostile attitude taken to the attempts to clean it all up, even as the protagonists’ lives fall apart as their behaviour catches up with them. A late movie scene with a tour of a repellent freakshow dungeon is supposed to indicate that things have gone too far, but really it’s not all that much worse than what everyone was getting up to before, just much uglier. Perhaps this was the intent of the film, but it does all read as salacious prurience rather than thoughtfulness. It’s a film that plays a fair number of deaths for comedy but asks you to balk when the protagonists are undone. There’s a lot of simultaneous cake-having and cake-eating going on here.
Should you see Babylon? Yes and no. No if you are easily offended by depictions of drugs and sex. Yes if you enjoy seeing money being burned as spectacularly as possible on screen. Yes if you enjoy rambling ensemble pieces chock full of stars. No if you’re impatient. This is ultimately an edgy retelling of Singin’ in the Rain that actually ends with a showing of Singin’ in the Rain, and it’s the sort of event film it’s almost compulsory to watch, even if just to pull it apart with similarly-minded friends afterwards.

#Babylon #Movie #Review #Spotlight #Report

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