By Cole Parkinson
Every Christmas sees some big movies come to theatres and 2022 was no different. With a full slate to choose from, my girlfriend and I chose Damien Chazelle’s latest offering Babylon. Described as a “chronicle of the rise and fall of multiple characters during Hollywood’s transition from silent to sound films in the late 1920s”, Babylon is a beat of a movie.
Clocking in at over three hours, this is no in-and-out movie and audiences obviously weren’t very keen to get out and into the theatre. Along with the runtime, the marketing was also very lacking considering many expressed confusion about what the movie was. I was in that boat, but being a fan of Chazelle, Margot Robbie, and Brad Pitt, I didn’t need much convincing. But the movie has completely bombed at the box office and didn’t get great reviews either. It will be interesting to see the legacy of this movie in the next few years.
It was funny though that there is a pre-movie video with Robbie and Diego Calva thanking those in the theatre for seeing the movie the way it was meant on the big screen with an excited crowd. The only problem was there were four total people in the theatre — and there may have well been only two because I don’t think I heard a single reaction from the other pair in the theatre.
With that out of the way, I will say I liked this movie — it’s not at the top of any favourite movie list or anything, but I enjoyed it. The first two-thirds are fantastic and I was laughing a lot during it, but the third act was a little drawn out and it lost me a bit. Tobey Maguire’s arc brought a whole different element to the movie compared to the first two and while that was interesting, it still felt like it could have been trimmed down.
The performances from Pitt, Calva, Jovan Adepo, Li Jun Li, Jean Smart, and especially Robbie are all worth the price of admission. Every time Robbie is on the screen, it’s hard to take your eyes off her. Robbie is a great actress and she makes most movies she’s in better and I think she’s the best part of this movie, acting-wise.
While the plot isn’t the main draw here, I liked seeing the transition from silent films to “talkies” and how that affected the entire industry. While the characters are all fictional, they do draw similarities to actual people during that time. The movie calls back expertly to that time period and it truly feels like stepping back in time. And there is plenty of debaucheries from start to finish. I mean the first 30 minutes alone are wild and it cranks up to another few notches in the last act. It also shows just how cutthroat Hollywood can be — from the 1920s until now. It’s not a nice business, to say the least, and while this movie shows that, it also makes a point to show the great art that can come from movies as well.
The most consistent element in this movie that is great from the first second until the last is the musical score. Justin Hurwitz knocked it out of the park once again and I can honestly say the music was the best part of this movie. He’s done the score in the last five Chazelle films and this is another home run for him. While jazz was prominently featured in Chazelle’s La La Land, Hurwitz kicks it up a notch in Babylon. It sets the mood and tone of 1920s Hollywood and there are tons of tracks on the soundtrack that stand alone as great songs. It’s jazzy, it’s tons of fun, and it’s hard not to bob along with the music here. I highly suggest just checking out the soundtrack because it’s so good. Check out “Welcome” or “Voodoo Mama” and tell me they doesn’t absolutely bop.
I’ve continued to think about this movie since walking out of the theatre and that’s usually a good sign. While I still prefer La La Land and Whiplash, I do appreciate Chazelle taking a big swing with this movie. It may not have hit on everything, but when it connects, it really connects.
I’m excited to watch this one again and while it may not feel the same on my TV compared to the big screen, I will appreciate the fact I can pause and go to the bathroom.