Movie Review: Babylon

Babylon Movie Review

Movie Review: Babylon

Babylon Movie Review
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There’s so much to ponder about Damien Chazelle’s latest movie Babylon. At its heart, the movie is a riotous peak inside the circus that was old Hollywood. But that’s just the start.

Set in the 1920-50s, Babylon the movie starts with dreamer Manny Torres (Diego Calva) trying to deliver an elephant on the back of an old truck, up a steep hill to a lavish Hollywood party. Nearing the top of the hill, it’s clear they aren’t going to make it. As the truck rolls backwards and the elephant arcs up, something has to be done to lighten the load, but what? The elephant has an idea. And so begins a movie that’s set to test all your senses.

Having successfully made the delivery, Manny is lingering outside the extravagant party when the stunning Nellie LeRoy (Margot Robbie) arrives. With her name not on the door, the doorman impedes her entry no matter how much she protests that she is a star. Recognising a kindred outsider, Manny declares “it’s Nellie LeRoy”. This seemingly insignificant encounter signals a closing doors moment as they step into the party and onto the rollercoaster ride of their lives.

It’s the Golden Age of Hollywood, and watching on is star Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt), who explains to Hollywood reporter, Elinor St John (Jean Smart), that Nellie “has no idea what’s coming.”

Meanwhile, a third outsider, jazz musician Jovan Adepo (Sidney Palmer), can also see his dreams being realised, as long as he is willing to make one “tiny” concession.

The outsider’s successful osmosis into Hollywood parallels Conrad’s fading star as silent movies give way to talkies. As Conrad’s reality takes hold, he realises that for every man, there is a season. Ironically it’s up to St John to point out the real gift of film. That actors never die, their image remains for generations to see, a fact realised later in the movie.

Underneath the hedonism are three stories of how outsiders can smash through their predetermined glass ceilings and achieve their destiny, but at what cost? The movie also explores themes of progress, and perpetual change, the idea that you never know when a small encounter might change your life forever, and what happens if you catch your dream.

Amongst all the riot, one of the best segments of the movie is when Nellie takes on her first role in a talking movie. The interplay between the sound technician, the cameraman, the actors, and the director is priceless. I won’t give away any more.

Watch out for fellow Aussie actor, Samara Weaving, as outraged and overlooked star Constance Moore, plus Eric Roberts as Nillie’s opportunistic father (Robert Roy) and Tobey Maguire as the vile, drug-addled James McKay who takes Torres on a Piped Piper, Hitchcock-ian tour of the depraved underbelly of the industry. By then it’s clear that the anything-goes orgies, the opulent pool parties, and posh soirees of the past had taken a turn.

As the screen dissolved into a multicoloured celluloid acid trip that Nellie would have gleefully inhaled, there was a lot to ponder.

Movie buffs will enjoy the clever nods to past Hollywood movies. From the outset, you know you’re in for something special when the elephant on screen gives you flashbacks of the iconic scenes from Peter Sellers, The Party. While you can’t miss the Singing In the Rain homage, look out for other references like Casablanca, and the Hitchcock-ian suspense piece. Having clicked onto these gems you’ll want to start at the beginning to see what you missed the first time through.

If you’re appalled by the opening elephant scene and have a weak heart or prudish tendencies, I suggest you leave after the elephant scene as this is not the movie you’re looking for. While modern-day sensibilities meant the elephant was spared from becoming an art canvas, the same cannot be said for the rest of the cast in the opening orgy scene. Sellers would have wanted an invitation to the party for sure. Taking two weeks to film the scene, I was exhausted just watching. And, when the opening titles followed, you realise that was just the entree and that we were in for a wild ride.

Robbie is becoming a master at playing over-the-top, wide-eyed, messy characters. In danger of being typecast, it will be interesting to see her next move after Barbie, the ultimate wide-eyed blonde. In his first Hollywood movie, Calva goes toe-to-toe with seasoned actors including Robbie and Pitt. He’s one to watch. Pitt was a delight as the ageing Lothario. He must have loved delivering the speech about gossip columnists being ‘cockroaches’ who ‘never achieved anything themselves’. Credit also to Mandy Moore, who did an amazing job choreographing all the extras.

A tip for directors: if you’re going to make a three-hour movie, please don’t put a toilet or ocean scene midway through. It’s a testament to the movie that I was desperate for a bathroom break around the two-hour mark, but hung in until the end as the cracking pace meant I couldn’t afford to take a break. That said, as a viewer with no experience apart from watching thousands of movies, I do wonder if Babylon could’ve been even better minus half an hour.

I was also left pondering which ode to filmmaking the Hollywood elite will reward. The innocent tale of one wide-eyed boy’s love of film in The Fablemans, or the gritty underbelly of the whole industry depicted in Babylon. Both long tales of outsiders, it will be interesting to see, won’t it?

Rating 7.5/10

Watch: Babylon Trailer

For more information Paramount Australia