Babylon Review – Performance Driven Characters Supersede Tepid Plot

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Babylon, from Paramount Pictures, presents a larger than life look at Hollywood in the 1920s, the change from silent pictures to talkies, the trappings and pitfalls of fame, and the birth of the industry's Golden Age.

As it is an analogy of the Hollywood machine, even from the very first scene, where the assistant is trying to drive an elephant up the mountain, instead of having the elephant walk up the mountain, it seems as if the entire industry is backward.

Even the projectile elephant excrement, which is disgusting, has representation beyond the literal; how much will you take before you walk away with your dignity intact? An invitation to the party, a chance to be in the aura of the biggest players, bring even the most adamant back into line.

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The film begins with a circus of debauchery, literary, the roaring 20's party to end all parties, an anything goes free for all evening filled with fetishes, fantasies, and flagrant scandals, a room dedicated to the drug of choice, free flowing, over the top, where the next big thing is plucked from obscurity, an orgy of excess, uninhibited sex, abandonment to ones deepest and most hidden, secretive desires and an almost comforting assurance that when the sun rises life will return to the same monotony.

And we see that it does, Lady Fay Zhu, played by Li Jun Li, the Asian Chinese singer and silent film dialogue writer returns to her family business at the Drycleaner; the trumpet player, Mr. Palmer, played by Jovan Adepo. returns to his rundown crash pad, and Nellie LaRoy returns to her single trashy room. The night may be the fantasy, but the day brings reality.

At the party we meet each of the three main characters the film revolves around. The blazing newcomer, Nellie LeRoy, played by Margot Robbie, who has heavy baggage and comes into the life with addictions; Jack Conroy, played by Brad Pitt, the handsome silent movie star, whose is nearing the twilight of his career, and Manny Torres, played by Diego Calva, the right place at the right time assistant turned studio executive who is so addicted to a fantasy that it destroy him, and Elinor St. John, played by Jean Smart, the gossip columnist who observes and as gossip never goes out of style she is always celebrated.

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Getting past the three-ring circus acts from the opening scene, the story moves to the rise and fall of the characters which, as sound is teasing audiences and executives alike, reinventing the business model is tantalizingly close, the only issue is those who were bankable in silence essentially will bankrupt in sound. The lights begin to dim, which for any person, in any career, the idea of no longer being valued, needed, valuable or important can be devasting.

The ending is disjointed, it has a mashup of ideas, which I believe represent the imagination at work, with just moments of clarity. However, to me, it doesn't stay true to the character, who never played the idea man, just the got lucky man, so to have his imagination become supersized by one single moment seemed unrealistic.

As far as being an entertaining picture, overall, it is not, however the performances are off the charts and redeem the lack of pizazz expected by director and writer Damian Chazelle. When he maintains his characters story, or the character's truth, the film moves well and tells a convincing story.

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The performances were so good, I expect Margot Robbie to win an Academy Award; her energy is unbelievable. As the coked out silent film star, Nellie LeRoy, with heavy baggage and fame brings more than she can handle, she is phenomenal in the role.

The film a dizzying circus, depicting the life of film stars, will reinforce every uninformed person's belief about Hollywood, debauchery at every door, every person in Hollywood is a whore to something, excess, free flowing everything, and the second school of thought, which is the truest, is that Babylon is fictionalized story, and many would say not a very good one, informed by history and imagination.

Babylon is available in theaters everywhere. Check your local listings.

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Country: U.S.

Language: English.

Runtime: 188minutes.

Director: Damien Chazelle.

Writer: Damien Chazelle.

Producer: Olivia Hamilton, Marc Platt, Matthew Plouffe.

Cast: Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Jean Smart, Diego Calva, Jovan Adepo, Flea, Olivia Wilde, Kaia Gerber, Lukas Haas, Eric Roberts, Li Jun Li, Sol Landerman, Rory Scovel, Olivia Hamilton, P.J. Byrne, Alexandre Chen, Bob Clendenin, Toby Maguire, Marc Platt, and many others.

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