Babel Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu

The value of human life, the hope of communication in a global village and the strength of community versus the right of individual determination - nothing less than these are the themes tackled in Mexican director Alejandro Gonzáles Iñárritu’s masterpiece film Babel. Like a less self-involved (and forgiving) Crash, the film connects a tragic accident in Morocco, a wedding in Mexico and the struggles of a deaf Japanese teenager in pain and hope. Smartly, Iñárritu doesn’t make the American superstars Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett (as Richard and Susan, the American victims of a random shooting in Morocco) the central focus of the film; in fact, it delays even getting to that key moment, exploring character and circumstance before revealing the consequences of a stray bullet fired by children. Meanwhile, the American couple’s nanny (played beautifully by Oscar nominee Adriana Barraza) takes their children across the border to Mexico to attend her son’s wedding and runs afoul of border guards upon her return. In the film’s least connected story, deaf teen Chieko (another Oscar nominee, Rinko Kikuchi) seeks physical connection through sexual experimentation. It is in the engaged or indifferent responses to suffering that each protagonist - and by extension, each community - reveals its character: American tourists accompanying Richard and Susan are more concerned about themselves than offering support, while the Mexican families are more community-minded. Meanwhile, Chieko, rejected by her deaf-mute friends, finds solace in a tender Japanese policeman who rebuffs her advances but listens to her in a way few others do. For all its ambitions, Babel gets bogged down in the middle of the film, not tragically so but enough that it robs the movie of some of its urgent immediacy. With excellent performances, particularly from Pitt, who overcomes his "I’m Brad Pitt” aura to reveal the core of a destroyed, panicked father and husband, Babel manages a lasting impact that is quite stunning. The same can’t be said for this bare bones DVD release, clearly an initial gambit before a two-disc "Special Edition” gives the film the (likely post-Oscar) treatment it surely deserves. Rent it for the film; for the home library, wait for the next iteration. (Paramount)