Sadly, Damien Chazelle overreaches with this sprawling drama set in the pioneering days of Hollywood in the 1920s. The youngest winner of the Best Director Oscar (he was 32 when he won with La La Land) creates some amazing sequences here, but it fails to unite them into anything approaching a satisfying whole.
An opening scene sets the provocative tone. It’s 1926 and a studio executive throws a riotous party in the Hollywood Hills.
As the camera pans over the piles of drugs and writhing naked bodies, we get brief introductions to its main characters.
Brad Pitt stars as a suave icon of the silent film era. An overacted Margot Robbie is a shrill but supposedly endearing aspiring actress. Jean Smart is a gossip columnist, Jovan Adepo is a jazz trumpeter, Li Jun Li is a sultry singer. The closest we get to a leading man is Diego Calva, who plays Manny, a smart but decidedly uncharismatic aspiring producer.
Over the next three hours, her barely drawn characters will flicker in and out of focus as talkies roll in, subplots fade, and Chazelle struggles to make a coherent point about showbiz morality.
The film’s most memorable sequence involves a camera traversing dozens of silent movie sets in the Hollywood hills. In another, Manny tries to rally hundreds of untrained extras to attack each other with real weapons in a medieval battle scene.
But the lasting impression is of a talented young man weighed down by a stack of Hollywood dollars. Chazelle’s successes have earned him a free hand from his generous payers and he never seems entirely sure what to make of it.
- Babylon, Cert 18, Now in theaters
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