Picture of Derrick Dunn

Derrick Dunn

Sure to divide audiences and critics, Babylon is a mess

Oscar Winner Damon returns to cinemas with his fourth film in Babylon from Paramount Pictures. Before the opening credits, we meet Manuel “Manny” Torres (Diego Calva), a Mexican immigrant working odd jobs in the thriving silent film industry and aspiring filmmaker. Also in the mix are Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt), a famous silent film star known for his flamboyant parties, jazz musician Sidney Palmer (Jovan Adepo), and the aspiring actress Nellie LaRoy (Margot Robbie).

This movie is not the first depiction of the late 1920s when Damien Chazelle takes us on a three-hour journey through the history of the film industry. As Damien Chazelle puts it, filmmaking is dirty work. An elephant’s excrement pours out in a torrent over the helper, pushing him in the direction of the elephant. A young woman’s lifeless body is disposed of in the background, while an elephant is used as a decoy during the producer’s party. After the shoot, we see an extra laid out injured too profoundly by a spear that a crusader threw near the end of the shoot. There is no question that early Hollywood wasn’t a place for the faint of heart.

Babylon isn’t anything you haven’t seen before. The problem comes into play as Chazelle can’t get it together. On the one hand, he focuses on two outsiders who want to get in: the Mexican Manuel (Diego Calvo), who first has to create his place in the industry between extras-tamer and idea generator. And Nelly LaRoy (Margot Robbie), the starlet who manages to get enough attention by party-crashing in a concise dress that some man points at her when a replacement needs to be found for the lifeless girl who was smuggled out. And as it befits the genre, Manuel falls in love with Nelly.

Sitting through this three-hour romp, the only character I felt any connection to was Sidney Palmer, and when his story starts to be good, he’s all but dropped from the movie. As viewers of Babylon, we can see a glaring absence and a disincentivized regard for the past. The film traces a series of transitions, including silence to sound, political morality creep, and celebrity meanings changing as the media evolved. 

These ideas are still relevant today since the industry continues to evolve, and the transitions only lead to more changes. There shouldn’t be such hedonistic excesses as this in an irrelevant movie.


Final Grade C-

Babylon is in theaters now.

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