Film Review: Babylon

Mild spoilers follow.

Damien Chazelle is back with his new epic drama comedy, Babylon. I loved Whiplash, La La Land is one of my favourite films of all-time, and First Man is… well we can forgive that one because the previous two were so good. But where does Babylon rank amongst these? Let’s find out.

Babylon is set in 1920’s Hollywood, and follows a variety of characters as silent films transition in to sound films, which has a significant impact on their lives and careers.

There is a lot to love about Babylon, the production design is sublime, the cinematography is beautiful, the score is fantastic. Chazelle has often not shied away from having a bit of chaos in his films and Babylon ramps this up to 11 at times, the opening sequence involves a lavish, graphic drug-fuelled party that is absolutely wild, both in execution and entertainment value. It quickly establishes the lifestyles some of these characters are accustomed to and prepares the audience for the ride that they are about to go on, imagine if The Wolf of Wall Street and La La Land were fused together. It’s ambitious and bonkers, which is sometimes a benefit but more often a detriment.

I adored the first half of this film, it is incredibly entertaining, often hilarious and relatively well structured. The film is at it’s best when focusing on the behind-the-scenes drama of filmmaking, one part focuses on an entire day in the world of making a silent film. It’s exaggerated and ridiculous, but it was cleverly crafted and had me in stitches. Later on we see a similar process for a sound film, but instead of seeing it throughout the day we are forced to watch the whole process for one simple take, it had the entire cinema in stitches as everything falls apart and the crew get more and more stressed, leading to a meltdown of epic proportions which is genuinely one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a while. Upon reflection, I wish Babylon had a lot more of this kind of stuff.

Unfortunately, after the first half Babylon began to lose me a bit. The scale of the ambition creates a bit of a mess narratively, it frantically bounces from moment to moment and a lot of it is forgettable, which means that the 3 hours and 9 minute runtime becomes more of an endurance test. If a film is going to be this long, it has to justify it and Babylon does anything but. I find it baffling that this film wasn’t cut and trimmed down in post-production because it felt like there was a good 45 minutes that they could have gotten rid of and it wouldn’t have impacted the film negatively at all. The third act of this film in particular was extremely weak, it felt massively out of place and unnecessary. I feel like Chazelle was juggling so many different ideas but instead of someone reigning it in a bit, they decided to throw every one of these ideas at the wall to see what stuck. What you are left with is a film that is over three hours long but plays out like a highlight reel and now I’ve had a day or two to think about it, there isn’t a lot on that highlight reel that I would particularly be bothered about watching again. I am aware that I am not alone in my thinking here having read other reviews, but I am also aware that there are some that will completely disagree with my take. Therefore, it is no surprise as to why this film has completely divided critics and audiences alike.

My lingering feeling towards Babylon is one of frustration. Because there was so much potential here and I can’t help but feel that it was wasted, had the film managed to maintain the intensity and momentum it had in the first act and been more ruthless in the editing suite, I honestly feel like this would be up there with Whiplash and La La Land. Alas, what we were left with was a film that began to fizzle out and crawl towards a finish line that shouldn’t have been so far away. There is stuff in this film that is so good but it gets lost in a myriad of mediocrity that the brilliant ensemble cast (Margot Robbie and Brad Pitt are fantastic, by the way) just can’t save entirely. This film is Chazelle’s love-letter to movies, not just to the industry as a whole but to an era that is perhaps often forgotten and not appreciated. There is no doubt in my mind that he put everything in to this film and his passion can’t be questioned, it’s just a shame he went a bit too far at times which leads to a final product that is no where near as good as it could have been.

This is a film that I would recommend watching, but if I were you, I’d wait for a streaming release and a a rainy day. I’m glad I saw it, but I have no desire to watch it again simply because it’s too much of a slog and there isn’t enough there to justify spending over three hours of my time seeing it again, I’ll end up just watching the scenes I did enjoy on YouTube most likely, which is a shame. I wanted to love this film, but I just can’t.

Hopefully you’ll feel differently! If you’ve seen Babylon, let me know what you thought.

I give Babylon a 6.5/10.

Follow my socials!





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s