Friday 29 March 2024

Movie Review: Babylon (2022)

Genre: Drama  
Director: Damien Chazelle  
Starring: Margot Robbie, Brad Pitt, Diego Calva, Tobey Maguire  
Running Time: 189 minutes  

Synopsis: In Hollywood of 1926, stars and wannabes attend a huge sex, drugs, and music party at a studio head's mansion. Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt) is the era's biggest star, Nellie LaRoy (Margo Robbie) is a fame-seeking nobody, and Manny Tores (Diego Calva) is a studio fixer desperate to be involved in moviemaking. Also present are band trumpeter Sidney Palmer, gossip writer Elinor St. John (Jean Smart) and exotic singer Lady Fay Zhu. The next day Manny gets his first on-set experiences and Nellie stumbles into stardom, unleashing all her addictions. All the industry norms are disrupted by the arrival of sound. Through the turmoil, Manny maintains a crush on Nellie, while Conrad frequently swaps wives but his career suffers as the public taste evolves.

What Works Well: Writer and director Damien Chazelle delivers a warts-and-all three hour epic vision of excess as a young town attracts ambition, talent, and crime. The characters are inspired by actual people, Jack Conrad and Nellie LaRoy roughly approximating John Gilbert and Clara Bow respectively. Brad Pitt is in his comfort zone as the residing superstar and Margot Robbie finds the unhinged bravura of a stardom-or-bust attitude, and they contribute to an exhilarating first hour packed with madcap energy, humour, and incidental death. The second hour is less impactful but still strong, Conrad and Nellie at their zenith suddenly encountering the hazards of new technology.

What Does Not Work As Well: The third hour unravels into aimlessness and an unworthy lovers-on-the-run subplot. Tobey Maguire makes an appearance as a crime lord, and triggers a useless detour to a dungeon of freakish debauchery. It all ends in a climax reaching for Singin' In The Rain-inspired nostalgia but falling embarrassingly short.

Conclusion: Two hours of excellence compromised by excessive bloat.

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