In terms of newer talent, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t love at least one film by Damien Chazelle, whose work goes from Whiplash to La La Land, First Man and now Babylon all of which he also wrote. Babylon is the most ambitious movie Chazelle has ever made, and more likely than not will be the most ambitious thing he is going to make out throughout his career. When one swings for the fences, one truly hopes that they hit it right out of the park, and like everything else Chazelle has directed (despite my opinions on First Man) he not only knocks it out of the park, he knocks it out of the atmosphere. Babylon is an ambitious letter of love to cinema, set in the late 1920s into the 1930s as the silent era was ending and the talkies were growing, finishing off with a beautiful signature. Babylon is simply a movie made for film lovers, by a film lover, exploring the love of film, it bleeds love and everyone in the film bleeds with it.
The movie tells the story of two different characters that meet right out of the gate in the forms of Manny Torres played by Diego Calva and Nellie LaRoy played by Margot Robbie. They both want to become famous, yet neither of them are currently at that point in their careers, or there lack of. Manny is willing to do, quite literally anything, to break into the business and finds himself tasked with taking Jack Conrad, played by Brad Pitt, home after an extravagant party, and Jack decided to take Manny under his wing and get him his first gig on a set, and then Manny refuses to slow down and does everything he can to accomplish the dream he has set out for himself. While on the other hand, Nellie is determined to become a star and will stop at nothing to achieve that dream as well. A line that she delivers in the film also states the clearly as she says “Honey, you don’t become a star. You are either one, or you ain’t”, and she fully believes this which sends her on a trajectory for the future to behold. While Manny and Nellie certainly go about their own business, and the film doesn’t hold back in letting each of these characters breathe, they do cross paths again and their story continues to shoot for the stars.
Babylon tells the story of two separate characters that end up intertwining in each other’s lives and shoot for the stars they so desperately want to reach. However if the actors playing these roles did not give their blood sweat and tears to their respective characters, its possible the film wouldn’t have succeeded as much as it does. Margot Robbie arguably gives the performance of her career, and gives absolutely everything and destroys every scene she is in. She is a force to be reckoned with and the chaotic energy and persistence she brings forth is amplified by what can only be described as a cocaine fueled adventure, which is an ample way of describing the first forty five minutes of the film as well. Margot could be described as the proverbial devil on a shoulder, while Diego Calva could be described as the angel as he is constantly more level headed and driven by ambition and not willing to be cut throat but also just refuses to give up. His performance is going to shoot him to the stratosphere for the North American audience. He is a revelation and to be able to be surrounded by such incredible talent, and still be the person that commands every scene and develops a character that holds more with the audience than seasoned veterans says it all. There is one more performance in the movie, specifically from Jovan Adepo playing Sidney Palmer, that must be addressed but his role in the film cannot be mentioned as it would crossover into spoiler territory. He is a major part of the overall story of Babylon, specifically in relation to Mannie’s character, and Jovan Adepo can match pound for pound with both Margot and Diego, he is equally as excellent as his co-stars and never misses a beat, a world wind performance. Atop of the brilliant performances from Margot and Diego, the supporting cast is filled with Brad Pitt, Olivia Wilde, Jean Smart, Flea, Tobey Maguire, Eric Roberts, Jeff Garlin and the list just goes on. Everyone brings their A game, and it creates this world of just sheer brilliance where the audience cannot stop but get lost in the chaos that is unfolding on screen, the drive that these characters bring, and the reality of the tonal shift that changed film forever. Babylon is the love letter to cinema that doesn’t try to coat its message with metaphors and other stories but focuses solely on the love of cinema as a whole and does it so masterfully that three hours fly by and demanded repeat visits.
There are movies that audiences absolutely fall in love with and get lost in their storytelling and Damien Chazelle does it again. Chazelle just brings consistency across his projects, when he is writing and directing, there is always so much heart and soul poured into the movie that makes him one of the most engaging and enticing auteurs of our time. Babylon is a movie that forces you to strap into the world immediately, never lets its foot off the gas, and delivers on every front.