Newcomers shine in ‘Babel’

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    Take one plot, divide it into four subplots occurring in four different countries – Morocco, Japan, Mexico and the United States – and you have the groundwork for “Babel.”In the biblical story of Babel, people were punished for their pride and vanity by becoming incomprehensible to each other. And while speaking different languages poses enough of an obstacle to overcome, the real barriers are those made by man.

    In the movie, directed by Alejandro González I¤Ã¡rritu (“21 Grams”), much of the same is present as he weaves the story through the four subplots.

    I¤Ã¡rritu takes the audience through the life of a deaf-mute Japanese teenage girl, estranged from and acting out against the speaking world; the colorful and life-embracing illegal immigrant to the United States that ends in a turbulent, through-the-rabbit-hole border-crossing experience after crossing back over to attend her son’s wedding in Tijuana; two young Moroccan brothers whose harmless target practice turns serious and makes them suspected terrorists in an international incident now out of their control; and an American couple who is touring the Middle East trying to rekindle a romance, but are thrown into desperation as one faces mortal peril in the middle of nowhere.

    The only recognizable names are Brad Pitt (“Fight Club” and “Troy”) and Cate Blanchett (“The Aviator” and “Lord of the Rings”) who play the American tourists suddenly caught in a life-or-death situation, but the two are, by far, the least impressive of the outstanding cast.

    Far and above the best performance in “Babel” is that of Adriana Barraza – whose only film credits are only a handful of Spanish-language flicks. He plays the illegal immigrant who is in charge of two young children. Barraza goes from being carefree to being scared for her young charges without missing a beat.

    The other standout performance goes to Rinko Kikuchi, who is also unknown to the majority of the American movie-going public. Kikuchi plays the part of a deaf teen whose often inappropriate actions fester out of being rejected time-after-time by the opposite sex. Kikuchi expresses so many different emotions without uttering a single word. Can you picture someone like Julia Roberts trying to do this in a movie? I can’t.

    Overall, “Babel” is a visually stunning picture that tackles important issues, but it lacks something that was present in similar movies such as “Crash” and “The Constant Gardener” – something that made them outstanding rather than just good. I guess the moral of the story is that the human race only has itself to blame for many of the barriers present in today’s world.