Step into the glitz and grime of 1920s Hollywood with Babylon, a film as complex as its era. Directed by Damien Chazelle, this black comedy-drama features an ensemble cast led by Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie. It's a tale of ambition, downfall, and the seismic shift from silent movies to the era of ‘talkies.'
What's Babylon About?
The film opens in 1926 Bel-Air, where Mexican immigrant Manuel “Manny” Torres, played by Diego Calva, helps transport an elephant to a debauched party.
This opening, a blend of chaos, comedy, and darkness, masterfully sets the stage for the ensuing emotional rollercoaster.
Manny meets Nellie LaRoy, a self-proclaimed star portrayed by Margot Robbie, whose audacious ambition and larger-than-life personality instantly captivate him, setting the stage for a complex relationship that serves as one of the film's emotional cores.
The movie not only chronicles the rise and fall of Manny and Nellie, but also weaves in the stories of other compelling characters like Jack Conrad, played by Brad Pitt, a film star grappling with his fading glory, and Sidney Palmer, portrayed by Jovan Adepo, an African-American jazz trumpeter navigating a racially biased industry.
All set against the backdrop of a pivotal moment in Hollywood history—the seismic shift from silent films to ‘talkies'.
Is Babylon Worth Watching?
Babylon is a polarizing film, to say the least. Critics laud its cinematography, score, and performances but are divided over its direction and screenplay.
The film's length and graphic content may not be everyone's cup of tea. However, if you're intrigued by the complexities of Hollywood's golden age, this film is a must-watch.
It's a rumination on mortality, identity, and the American dream wrapped in a visually stunning package.
The film's score, composed by Justin Hurwitz, adds another layer of depth, making it a compelling watch for those interested in a more substantive cinematic experience.
The ensemble cast is a mix of seasoned pros and fresh faces, each bringing a unique flavor to the film:
Brad Pitt as Jack Conrad: A Hollywood veteran known for his roles in classics like Fight Club and Inglourious Basterds, Pitt takes on the character of Jack Conrad with a nuanced approach. His performance captures the vulnerability and resilience of an actor facing an industry in flux.
Margot Robbie as Nellie LaRoy: Already a household name for her roles in films like Wolf of Wall Street and I, Tonya, Robbie takes on the character of Nellie LaRoy with a magnetic presence. As a self-proclaimed star with dreams bigger than the Hollywood hills, her portrayal is a whirlwind of ambition, vulnerability, and complexity.
Diego Calva as Manuel ‘Manny' Torres: Known for his roles in Bird Box Barcelona and Narcos: Mexico, Calva delivers a standout performance in Babylon. Calva's portrayal serves as the audience's window into the glamour and grit of Hollywood, making Manny not just a character in the story but a poignant observer of an industry undergoing seismic shifts.
Jean Smart as Elinor St. John: Credits include Watchmen, Mare of Easttown.
Jovan Adepo as Sidney Palmer: Known for Fences, Overlord.
Li Jun Li as Lady Fay Zhu: Credits include Wu Assassins, Blindspot.
Tobey Maguire as James McKay: Known for his iconic roles in films like Spider-Man, Maguire takes a dramatic departure in Babylon. As James McKay, he delivers a performance that's both surprising and captivating, shedding his usual persona for a character that's darker and more complex.
Babylon is a complex, layered film that offers a nuanced look at a transformative era in Hollywood. However, it has flaws; the film sometimes feels like a disjointed mishmash of ideas and needs a firm narrative.
If you can bypass its storytelling shortcomings and commit to its length, Babylon offers a deeply engaging cinematic experience that's worth every minute.
Is Babylon Based on a True Story?
While Babylon is not a direct retelling of real-life events, it draws heavily from the lives and careers of actual Hollywood figures.
Brad Pitt's character, Jack Conrad, is modeled after John Gilbert—a silent film star whose career plummeted with the advent of sound. Margot Robbie's Nellie LaRoy is a composite character, initially inspired by Clara Bow but later rewritten to incorporate traits from other actresses like Alma Rubens and Jeanne Eagels. Max Minghella's portrayal of Irving Thalberg, the real-life head of MGM, adds another layer of authenticity to the film.
So, while not strictly a true story, Babylon is deeply rooted in the realities of Hollywood's Golden Age.
More Hollywood-Inspired Movies?
Singin' in the Rain (1952) – A classic musical comedy that humorously depicts Hollywood's transition from silent films to talkies.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019) – A nostalgic journey through the end of Hollywood's Golden Age, directed by Quentin Tarantino.
La La Land (2016) – Directed by Damien Chazelle, like “Babylon,” this film explores the dreams and realities of making it in Hollywood, albeit in a modern setting.
Sunset Boulevard (1950) – A dark drama that delves into the life of a faded silent film star and her desperate attempts to make a comeback.
Hail, Caesar! (2016) – A comedy by the Coen Brothers that takes a humorous look at one day in the life of a Hollywood fixer during the Golden Age of Hollywood.
These films offer a range of takes on Hollywood's history and the film industry's evolution, much like Babylon.
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