Babylon18¦ 4K UHD, Blu-ray, DVD
You must be doing something right when three films you direct in a row all win Oscars. That’s exactly what happened to Damien Chazelle with the release of Whiplash (2013), La La Land (2016) and First Man (2018).
The pressure must have been on then going into possibly Chazelle’s most ambitious and audacious film yet, set during a significant shift in the history of cinema, when silent films suddenly discovered a voice.
Helping out with the entertainment at a very exclusive Hollywood party thrown by a bigwig producer is Manny (Diego Calva). He’s been tasked with making sure that everything runs smoothly, which isn’t easy considering how raucous the party is. It has some big star names attending, such as screen heartthrob Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt), and an even larger of number of wannabees like a certain Nelly LaRoy (Margot Robbie).
Manny meets the enigmatic Nelly fairly early on, where they discuss their mutual love for the movies. They are both convinced that they’re going to work in the industry, and it’s at that point they become close friends. Little do they know that this party is actually going to set them both on similar paths into working in Hollywood, during the most daunting and exciting period in the history of film, when the talkies arrived.
It transpires that this huge transition in the industry also signals a large transition in all their lives as well.
So first the bad news. Chazelle didn’t manage to continue is hot Oscar streak; the film only managed three lesser nominations on the production side (production design, score and costume design) and won none of them. It’s probably something that Chazelle didn’t lose any sleep over however.
Something far more worrying is the fact the film was a major flop at the box office; it made just over $60 million at the box office against a budget of around $80 million. Now it’s not so much the financial loss that would be disappointing, but the fact the audiences stayed away. But why?
Well, one of the most obvious reasons is that the film is over three hours long. Even if the film contains a number of superheroes getting their superpowers on, that’s enough to put a significant amount of people off.
And then you have the story itself, given a rare 18/R rating, which can often be a kiss of death to a film, which is why any commercial film aimed at audiences will bend over backwards for a 15 rating.
So just a few factors that may have played into its poor showing at the box office.
But here’s the thing. Damien Chazelle’s Babylon may well be a cinematic masterpiece. It may not be considered as such right now, but there’s every chance it will undergo the Heaven’s Gate experience, and will finally be appreciated for being a true classic many years down the line.
It is an outstanding ode to cinema, written and directed by someone with an almost frightening amount of love for the history of film. Chazelle’s direction is breathtakingly dynamic, presented with a kinetic, frenzied energy that is often giddying at times. His opening pre title scenes are so epic in scale, they manage to out Luhrmann Baz on every front, which is no easy feat.
And then you have the performances which are truly sublime. Pitt is at his best as an engaging movie star, who not so much finds love easily but certainly wives, who is brimming with charm. It is a role he feels completely at ease with, putting his own screen idol credentials to fitting use.
Then you have relative newcomer Diego Clava. The Mexican actor has a pivotal role in the film, and he excels as a young man who suddenly finds himself with a huge amount of responsibility, in an industry he loves but knows little about. It’s this innocence and seeing it get slowly chipped away that makes for an intriguing watch.
And then you have Margot Robbie, who is utterly captivating and vibrant as Nelly, in what could easily be a career-defining role. We follow her on her impressive journey, and in a very meta way, she is just as beguiling to watch at all times by those who watch her as Nelly, as well as by us, with both sets of audiences having no other choice than to completely fall in love with her.
It’s no surprise the film has great music knowing Chazelle’s previous work, with a jazz-infused soundtrack that is majestic at all times, as well as playing a huge integral part to the film as a hole.
It is a bold, often shocking spectacle, proving that Chazelle has now moved onto another level as a director. It also happens to be his funniest film to date, littered with extremely funny scenes right from the off with a truly explosive opening and continuing strong from there.
Babylon embodies the pure magic of the movies, and if you have any love for cinema and its history, then there’s no way you won’t be able to fall in love with it. There's no doubt that this film involving film history will have its own history re-written in time, reinforcing what we already know, that it is scheduled to become an all time classic.