“Old Hollywood is just like a desert water in Africa. Hang around long enough and every kind of animal in the world will drift in for refreshments.” – Will Rogers
Excess is the devil.
In an era when Hollywood was in its infancy and paparazzi didn’t yet exist, the stars of that age were untethered in the same way a boat adrift in the ocean would behave if a hurricane were overhead. They lived in a time when consequences for the rich and famous were basically nonexistent. The more debaucherous the activity the more it seemed to attract the elite of the land of facade. Babylon by definition is a strong and powerful, yet corrupted and immoral place. If this story is in any way accurate, early Hollywood is Babylon incarnate. Drugs were in abundance, sex was rampant and alcohol flowed like an endless river. It was a mad dash to reach human superfluity only to inevitably crash in a pile of suicide or worse, anonymity.
If the story of Icarus is written, 1920’s Hollywood was a land of people who never read its warning. To have more for them was seemingly never enough. Babylon is the story of just a select few who found themselves caught up in the hurricane of Hollywood in a time when no stories of hindsight existed; rather they themselves lived the moments others would one day hopefully learn from. If Elvis was the first superstar, the Hollywood elite of its earliest days were the first to navigate such surplus. They wandered the land of Babylon blind, deaf and dumb. What could go wrong?
The focus of this story is on Manny Torres (Diego Calva), Nellie LaRoy (Margot Robbie) and Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt). Each entered the land of lunacy by different means but crossed each other’s paths and influenced one another regularly. Manny was an early version of Ray Donovan, a Hollywood fixer. He would facilitate the wants and needs of stars and executives and then without fail bail them out when trouble called their names. Of course he wanted more. Nellie believed to her very core that she was born a star. Her place, as far as she was concerned, was in the newly lit limelight. And she would do anything to achieve her rightful place among the stars. Of course she wanted more. Jack was the timeless, effervescent movie star that would one day become the mold of what fame and fortune would look like. Of course he wanted more.
It would never be enough for these three souls to achieve their dreams. I suspect this is because what they dreamed and what reality had in store for them was never going to match what they had envisioned for themselves. In an age of lack of self control and lack of repercussions, their downfall was all but guaranteed. They lived on train tracks and were deaf to the blaring horn behind them.
This is a story about lack of foresight. The ability to understand the actions and decisions made now affecting the outcome of future events. They partied from sunset to sunrise and drunk and drugged themselves into belligerent stupors with zero thought of what the morning would bring. These experiences accumulated would in a larger sense bring about consequences given little to no heedance. Their entire lives would become a morality lesson they never learned from.
A surprising performance comes from Diego Calva who acts as our vicarious vessel as we might enter the Hollywood world if we were presented with such an opportunity. He is wide-eyed and dangerously curious to carve his path in La La Land. Diego delivers a human performance in contrast to such excess. He is adrift in the aforementioned boat holding on for dear life as the pummeling hurricane tries to capsize his carrier.
Brad Pitt is as charismatic and complex as ever. His character is exuberantly ignorant but never without his moments of raw humanity, especially in the face of great change. Margot Robbie embodies the free spirit of someone naive to the harsh realities of unchecked folly. She is both a celebration of the human propensity to better themselves and someone who can’t see the forest for the trees. She is the cautionary tale for the future starlets of Hollywood.
Babylon is ambitious and meandering. It can feel full of purpose and then without warning stay with a scene of drunken fools fighting a snake for ten minutes straight. The structure of the film is very much a mirror of the world it’s showcasing. It is long and at times arduous, rarely slowing for a breath or much needed bathroom break. Despite its flaws of being excessively long and structurally unsound, Babylon is ultimately greater than the sum of its parts. The acting is phenomenal, the re-creation of 1920’s Hollywood is impeccable and the stories of insanity are a spectacle all their own. One of the most welcome surprises is the humor this film possesses. It is one of the funniest movies of the year despite being a drama about the dangers of rampant depravity. It is as complex and fascinating as the individual stories that comprise it.
Rated R For: strong and crude sexual content, graphic nudity, bloody violence, drug use, and pervasive language
Runtime: 188 minutes
After Credits Scene: No
Genre: Comedy, Drama, History
Starring: Diego Calva, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Jean Smart
Directed By: Damien Chazelle
Out of 10 Nerdskulls
Story: 8.5/ Acting: 10/ Directing: 9/ Visuals: 8
OVERALL: 8 Nerdskulls
Buy to Own: Yes.
Check out the trailer below:
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