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Few towering performances in disappointing Babel

PUBLISHED: 12:17 25 January 2007 | UPDATED: 14:25 07 September 2010

Babel (15) Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu Starring Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Gael Garcia Bernal, Adriana Barraza, Rinko Kikuchi 143 mins Two star rating For their third collaboration, the Mexican Glee Club pairing of director Inarritu and s

Babel (15)

Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Starring Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Gael Garcia Bernal, Adriana Barraza, Rinko Kikuchi

143 mins

Two star rating

For their third collaboration, the Mexican Glee Club pairing of director Inarritu and screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga (Amores Perros) have some proper Hollywood backing, some proper Hollywood stars and have been told to go away and come back with some proper Art.

They've done Mexico, they've done America. This time they're tackling the

whole damn world - four interlocking stories, four different countries, three continents and a mixture of big stars and amateur performers.

Babel traces the consequences of a single gunshot across the world. The bullet strikes Blanchett as she's sitting on a tourist coach in Morocco alongside her husband Brad Pitt and the reverberations are felt by a Moroccan shepherding family, a Mexican nanny working illegally in LA and a deaf Japanese schoolgirl.

I imagine the Japanese section, which has only a tentative link to the rest of the action, will be seized on as the weakest element. The story of how Chieko (Kikuchi) is estranged from her father and unable to connect with boys does spell out a little too clearly the theme of difficulties with communication. But I always welcomed their reappearance as I felt a certain weight of despair lifted whenever they were on screen.

Back on the bus, Pitt is very good playing a fundamentally unsympathetic character put into a horrific situation. He lets you see both sides, doesn't just turn him into an ugly American. Blanchett's role mostly consists of going "ugh, ugh, it hurts."

I'd hoped Babel might be the film where people began to see through Inarritu and Arriaga's brand of arid portentous melodrama. But the eager rubes at the Golden Globes have frittered away seven nominations in their directions.

I'll concede that they state the obvious with considerable film-making flair and at least Babel is less all encompass-ingly bleak than their previous film, 21 Grams. Even allowing for the presence of Sean Penn, an actor who can turn any carnival into a wake, that film felt like punishment for a crime I didn't know had been committed. Babel skips along hopefully for around an hour. But, in the second half, Inarritu and Arriaga start passing down their judgements and, with a few lucky exceptions, they are severe.

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