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“Utterly profound”: 'Babylon' Review

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From left, Lukas Haas, Brad Pitt and Spike Jonze in "Babylon." (Paramount Pictures/TNS)

It seems every few years, a great movie comes along that is a critic or commercial flop. Over time, fans uncover it and realize its true value. Beloved movies such as “The Shawshank Redemption,” “The Thing” and even “Citizen Kane” did not find success until years after their release.

After a contemplative walk home from seeing “Babylon,” I can safely say that despite the bad reviews, this movie will someday be revered alongside those aforementioned movies. 

“Babylon” is director Damien Chazelle’s latest and most ambitious work. You may recognize that name from recent classics such as “La La Land” and “Whiplash.” Clocking in at nearly 190 minutes, “Babylon” is a beast of a film that has a lot to say.

Its simple premise is a raunchy look at the good, bad, and ugly of Hollywood, and I do mean raunchy. Be wary of watching this one with your family. While this film may suffer from being a bit too stuffed, “Babylon” is a heartbreaking, tense and utterly profound ride through the highs and lows of stardom. 

With a stacked cast including Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Tobey Maguire and more, there isn’t a weak performance across the board. Robbie in particular gives her best performance to date as a newfound Hollywood star. Pitt plays an actor who has just left his heyday and is struggling to stay relevant. I won’t spoil Maguire’s role, he comes out of nowhere, but it is a far cry from Peter Parker. Even if you’re going just to see your favorite actors perform, you won’t leave disappointed. 

The technical aspects of this movie are great. The editing is concise, the chaotic directing fits Chazelle’s style perfectly, and the jazzy soundtrack is reminiscent of “Whiplash.” In some ways, this film feels like an answer to many of the questions the themes of “Whiplash” provided. 

The biggest bone I have to pick with this film is its lengthy runtime, and more importantly, its third act. “Babylon” stumbles in momentum and takes a surreal direction, but once it gains its footing, the film sticks the landing with a truly beautiful ending montage.

Reminiscent of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” Chazelle evaluates all the hard questions he’s asked across his career in film and brings it all together with an emotional, open-to-interpretation conclusion. Does the pain that goes into art justify the means of creation? “Babylon” doubles down on this pain, but answers that question with a resounding “Yes!” because movies are forever, and affect us all in ways no other medium ever could.

At the end of the day, “Babylon” is a critique and a love letter to movies as a medium. A scathing hatred of the conditions our actors are put through, yet a celebration of what our favorite films mean to us. While it may feel bloated and tonally inconsistent, I have no doubt “Babylon” will be beloved amongst film buffs someday.