Time: 189 Minutes
Age Rating: Sex scenes, violence, drug use, offensive language & suicide
Diego Calva as Manuel “Manny” Torres
Margot Robbie as Nellie LaRoy
Brad Pitt as Jack Conrad
Jean Smart as Elinor St. John
Jovan Adepo as Sidney Palmer
Li Jun Li as Lady Fay Zhu
Director: Damien Chazelle
Decadence, depravity, and outrageous excess lead to the rise and fall of several ambitious dreamers in 1920s Hollywood.
Babylon was one of my most anticipated movies of 2022. Of the “newer” directors, Damien Chazelle is already proving himself as one of the best, with Whiplash, La La Land and First Man. His next movie looked to be interesting, set in 1920s Hollywood. I will admit I had some doubts, especially with some questionable marketing which didn’t exactly make the movie look good. But I was still interested in seeing it for myself, and the very divisive reactions only intrigued me further. After all that, Babylon ended up being one of my all-time favourite films of the year.
Babylon is by far Damien Chazelle’s most ambitious work yet, and even if I didn’t like the film, I would still applaud it for the massive swings that he takes with it. It’s an epic which covers multiple characters and their stories, and Chazelle did a really good job at making them intersect and cross over with each other. Some have called the movie messy and chaotic; I definitely agree that it’s chaotic but I wouldn’t call it messy, the story is still coherent. It is a very funny and entertaining movie, with some outrageous scenarios and moments. Babylon portrays the debauchery of the film industry, which is made immediately clear in the very in-your-face first 30 minutes. It also explores the eras of cinema and shows how film has changed, especially with the transition from the silent era to talkies. Part of my reluctance going into Babylon was that it was a movie about movies. That doesn’t inherently turn me off from a film, but there’s been so many love letters to cinema recently that I admit that I’ve been getting somewhat tired of them. But I still ended up liking this aspect in the movie. As expected, Babylon does celebrate cinema and so you can call it is a love letter to movie, but it also serves as a condemnation and scathing hate letter to the filmmaking industry and Hollywood. The film is essentially about outsiders navigating an ever-changing industry, and shows their rise and fall as their sense of self is slowly stripped away, often with their sacrifices to film. It is a very funny and entertaining movie with some surprising optimism even by the end, but the story is sad and tragic. It is a very long movie at over 3 hours and this will definitely be an issue for people who aren’t invested within the first hour, but I was enthralled for the whole runtime. I’ve noticed that some are a little divided over the ending, even among people who like the movie. While I was initially not sure what to think of it, I thought it worked, even if it’s a little drawn out.
Babylon has a massive and talented ensemble cast, with most actors being used to their strengths. Diego Calva and Margot Robbie give amazing performances, with Robbie quite possibly delivering her best yet. The relationship between their two characters is the heart of the film, and they share incredible and convincing chemistry. Brad Pitt is the other main protagonist, an aging movie star who is struggling to adapt to cinema’s change from silent films. Pitt fit this role well, and he delivers a restrained, lived in and believable performance. Some of the other prominent actors include Li Jun Li, Jean Smart, and Jovan Adepo; they are really good and help to bring their characters across. Even other actors with smaller roles like P.J. Bryne, Max Minghella, Katherine Waterston, Eric Roberts, Samara Weaving, and Spike Jonze work to make their roles stand out. Out of the supporting roles however, Tobey Maguire is the standout to me, delivering a weird, unhinged and creepy performance, and it certainly helps that he’s involved with one of the most memorable segments of the movie.
Unsurprisingly Damien Chazelle has done another phenomenal job at directing. The technical aspects are all top notch and brilliant, everything from the cinematography, production design, editing and sound are all amazing. It’s a very bombastic and stylish film, at times a sensory overload especially with the portrayal of excess. It’s a feast for the eyes; a lot of the time there’s so much happening on screen, whether that be the parties or filming of movies, and they are all captured excellently. The camera movements are outstanding, especially with the long takes, and there’s this constant frenetic energy from beginning to end. Finally, the music is just phenomenal. Justin Hurwitz’s composed music is nothing short of outstanding, it gave so much to the movie, and I am confident in calling it the best score of 2022.
Babylon is an ambitious, bombastic, enthralling, and exhilarating experience, and is amazingly well crafted. Damien Chazelle’s direction and the technical aspects are outstanding, and it has fantastic performances from the ensemble cast. It really is sad (but unsurprising) that it bombed at the box office. The label “not for everyone” for movies can be meaningless most of the time, but it certainly can apply to Babylon. However, it worked for me on so many levels, and it is one of my favourite films from 2022.