Babylon Movie Review: Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie Set Ablaze This Frenetic, Frantic Tribute to Hollywood

Babylon Movie Review: Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie Set Ablaze This Frenetic, Frantic Tribute to Hollywood

Damien Chazelle's latest film, 'Babylon,' is an ambitious love letter to the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. Clocking in at over three hours, this frenetic and frantic tribute is a whirlwind of vibrant extravagance. While it may offer little substance and an abundance of nudity, indulging in fast food once in a while can be enjoyable, right? Just like fast food, however, excessive consumption of 'Babylon' may leave you feeling queasy, with moments of projectile vomiting and excessive saliva (ugh).

Although 'Babylon' is ideally suited for the big screen, streaming it allows viewers the option to take breaks and engage in more mundane activities, like watching paint dry, before diving back into the sensory riot that unfolds on screen.

Paramount Pictures

The title 'Babylon,' reminiscent of other evocative names like Kandahar and Samarkand, serves as a shorthand for art, culture, oppression, and excess. Interestingly, the Bible refers to Babylon as Babel, and Brad Pitt, who delivers a captivating performance as silent movie star Jack Conrad, also appeared in Alejandro González Iñárritu's Oscar-winning film 'Babel' (2006).

Returning to 'Babylon,' the story opens in 1926 Bel-Air, where Manny (Diego Calva) attempts to persuade a truck driver to transport an elephant to a studio executive's party. In the first 30 minutes, which are nothing short of bacchanalian revelry, all the major players are introduced, setting the tone for what's to come. Alongside Conrad and Manny, we meet the audacious aspiring starlet Nellie LaRoy (Margot Robbie), risqué cabaret singer Lady Fay Zhu (Li Jun Li), trumpeter Sidney Palmer (Jovan Adepo), and gossip writer Elinor St. John (Jean Smart).

Nellie's star rises when she replaces an actor who overdoses at the party, captivating everyone with her uninhibited dance. Hollywood finds itself in a state of flux as silent films give way to talkies, impacting the players in different ways. While Manny adeptly adapts to the changing landscape, Conrad, Nellie, and Fay struggle to find their footing.

Paramount Pictures

'Babylon' is a whirlwind of drug dealers, such as the aspiring actor known as The Count (Rory Scovel), who sells drugs disguised as peanuts, copious amounts of alcohol and sexual encounters, rattlesnake fights, accidental deaths, heads stuck in toilet bowls, gangsters, chained alligators, and suicides. Amidst the chaos, there are also poignant moments, like Elinor's heartfelt conversation with a bewildered Conrad, exploring the fleeting nature of stardom.

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Although the screenplay could have been tighter, as 'Babylon' unfolds as a loose string of audacious scenes, the razor-sharp editing, exquisite costumes, and captivating soundtrack transport viewers into a psychedelic fever dream.

The performances in 'Babylon' are nothing short of exceptional. Pitt shines as Conrad, a talented and amiable character ultimately rendered ineffective. Robbie dazzles as Nellie, described by Conrad's ex-wife Ina (Olivia Wilde) as "the maelstrom of bad taste and sheer magic." Robbie embodies Nellie's abundance of ideas, talent, brazen sexiness, and self-destructive tendencies. Tobey Maguire delivers a riveting portrayal of manic mob boss James McKay, while Max Minghella captivates as producer Irving Thalberg. Samara Weaving also leaves an impression as Nellie's rival, Constance Moore, whom Nellie swiftly surpasses.

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Aside from a slightly dragged-out montage towards the end of the film, which disrupts the drug-induced thrill ride and the unfortunate blurring of body parts for censorship purposes, 'Babylon' immerses audiences in a vivid depiction of writer-director Chazelle's vision of Hollywood.

'Babylon' is currently available for streaming on Amazon Prime Video