You have to give Damien Chazelle credit for trying. “Babylon” was an ambitious project. But despite all of the big stars, wild scenes and stunning visuals, the film is a disappointing mess. All of the brilliant cinematography doesn’t count for much when the audience can’t connect with the characters or the story. The 3-hour run time makes these flaws even more annoying. I couldn’t wait for the movie to end.
The film generated a lot of buzz around the opening party scene that features stunning shot of the beautiful and charismatic Margot Robbie dancing up a storm. Robbie draws you in and you can’t take your eyes off of her. She executes her elaborate dance moves in her spectacular red dress in the middle of what can only be described as managed chaos. It’s the best scene of the film and it goes on for quite a while, yet even this scene falls flat. All of the moves are overly choreographed and stylized. There are various couple engaging in sex in the middle of all the frenzied dancing, but none of it is remotely natural or believable. Rather, it comes across as awkward as opposed to erotic, reminding me of robotic orgy scenes in “Eyes Wide Shut.” Everyone is supposed to be having fun, but they just seem like they’re pretending.
Things slow down a bit with the rest of the film, which sadly does little to make anyone become more interested in the characters. The stories revolve around several stars of Hollywood’s silent film era and the excesses of those times. But many of these scenes do little to advance the story, but rather give Chazelle an excuse to create elaborate, cinematic scenes showing how these films were made. The scenes look great, but most are tedious and boring. You always feel like you’re watching a stylized movie . . . the film never grabs you and makes you feel like you’re there. It just feels like a bizarre series of sketches with little purpose.
A lot of acting talent is wasted here. Brad Pitt has proven his acting chomps again and again, but here he seems robotic as he recites his poorly written lines. There’s little that’s believable about his character or his performance. His character is a silent film star, living the life of a rich and adored celebrity, who then struggles with the emergence of talkies. But the audience isn’t given a chance to becomes emotionally invested in his plight.
Margot Robbie does her best with her part, but she’s asked to deliver an over-the-top performance. She delivers, but there’s little to like about her character beyond her stunning appearance. Tobey Maguire gives a creepy and memorable performance as he guides us through an underground party with disturbing visuals that we’d prefer to forget.
The ending is the film is supposed to make the audience feel nostalgic about the silent film era in Hollywood through the eyes of the lead character Manny (Diego Calva). But flashbacks to characters in their glory days don’t land as well if the audience doesn’t care about those characters.
Sadly, it’s not surprising that this film bombed at the box office. It’s difficult to imagine how a director who delivered the brilliant “Whiplash” could also create this self-indulgent disaster, but even the best creative minds have their misses. Don’t waste your time on this one.