The term "epic" has been used to describe many films in recent years. Whether it's a sprawling, long-lasting historical adventure or a creative fantasy world that immerses the audience, few films deserve this rating.
One of the films deemed worthy of the title "epic" is Damien Chazelle's latest work, Babylon , a Golden Age of Hollywood story starring Margot Robbie, Brad Pitt and Diego Calva.
In terms of historical adventure, it takes place in the late 1920s and early 1930s, when Hollywood was transitioning from silent films to "talkies." To that end, Babylon used stunning cinematography, period costumes, and spirited staging to anchor the audience in the Hollywood of the moment.
Brad Pitt plays a fictional version of himself called Jack Conrad. That is, if he had lived in the early 20th century as he is now, a well-known, world-renowned actor. Margot Robbie plays Nellie Loroy, a charismatic but wild girl whose only dream is to succeed in the ever-changing film industry. Diego Calva stars as Manny Torres, a young Mexican who works in renovations at a local studio but eventually rises to the top of the business.
Here's the adventure as we witness the three characters interact as they navigate through the passageway through the city's main industries. The thread that ties our three heroes together is the party at the beginning of the film.
Maybe "party" is a bit oversimplified; The first half hour of the film can best be described as an orgiastic night of Dionysian revelry and drugs. This set the tone for the film as Chazelle began to explore and define the era's Hollywood as a hedonistic machine that sidelined many people on its ever-evolving path to what we know today.
To that end, Chazelle makes desperate use of graphic materials. In the first five minutes of the film, Torres buys an African elephant for the aforementioned celebration, which continues to flow into the camera lens, creating an odd effect for the period section.
Manny and Nellie's fates are intertwined. Their first meeting at a party sees them high on cocaine, and confess their dreams to each other. When a young actress dies of a predictable overdose, Nellie takes her place and begins her rise to the top.
At the same party, Manny meets Conrad, who takes pity on the legendary actor and takes him home. Samaritan's jobs help Manny rise to the top of the industry as he completes small tasks and succeeds, almost like an open-world video game hero. He was a real stand-in to the audience, an outsider who was accepted into the group.
Nelly's traumatic childhood and unyielding nature gave her an inexhaustible source of angst and emotion to draw upon, and her ability to cry on command soon made her one of the top box office baits. There's just one (predictable) problem: Nellie is a drug addict trying to experience something new and live life to the fullest. This leads him down the tedious path of destruction that is characteristic of such films.
Although the storytelling is dated and maybe a little boring, Ravi's performance is excellent. Although we know her as Harley Quinn and Sharon Tate, she is a rising star in Babylon .
In fact, all the shows are themed and epic. Pitt plays an actor who wants to give filmmakers an introduction and commentary on the nature of cinema as "high art", but is largely ignored in an era of sound breakthroughs. While we're used to Pete as a guy who can get his way, this character presents it in a more subdued light. His depression gets under the skin of his superstar looks, but the audience can always feel it through his scenes in this film.
For Calva, this film was a major breakthrough in his career. While he was previously in Narcos: Mexico as drug lord Arturo Beltran Levia and did a great job, this young Mexican-American character allowed him to show more of himself. His journey represents the classic American Dream and is certainly the film's most refreshing leitmotif. However, it was underutilized, often popping up between main storylines when Robbie stole the show. Either way, he was nominated for a Golden Globe for Babylon, as were Pitt and Robbie.
Unfortunately, the high intensity of the performances and music is not necessarily reflected in the film's plot and direction. As mentioned above, the trajectories are predictable and the characters are underutilized for their roles.
Chazelle's maximalist approach goes well with execution and panache, but feels weak when it comes to the film's graphic content. Some scenes clearly confuse the audience, and the storytelling is a bit boring. Theatrical drug use, raunchy parties and sad endings leave audiences disappointed.
That said, the final stages of the film are somewhat sympathetic, if not entirely refreshing. Ravi's character looks very different when he surrenders to the decisions he makes. Calva makes a last ditch effort to make her into the girl he knows she can be, expressing his clear love for her.
Whatever the outcome, we're finally back in Manny's perspective, years spent past his exciting youth.
Back in Hollywood with his family, he made films in local cinemas. What is shown on the screen is not important, because what he sees and what the audience sees is a montage of the evolution of film over time as we know it today.
There are many reasons for where he is, but with a Kubrick twist that echoes the final shot of 2001: A Space Odyssey , he looks to the future of cinema and seems to dream of a happier moment at the center of America's burgeoning entertainment industry. . . .
As the film ends, viewers feel invited to reflect on their own role in this evolution and the engines that drive our dreams on an epic scale.