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Babylon Review

These are not the Gates of God as this title would suggest. Nothing that goes on in Babylon is to be admired or loved. Damien Chazelle has taken to the streets of creativity time and time again. His gear shift from the individual to the achievement is a working narrative that passes through each of his films. Babylon is the most gluttonous of all and rightly so. There is no other way to express the Hollywood machine than as a boastful, champagne-fuelled, star-littered piece of barely working brilliance. For all the overextensions and frequency of features and miniseries seeking the heart of Hollywood, and for all the failures of it, Babylon somehow shifts away from a tired process. 

In its wake is nothing new but a change to the expectation of a love letter is marvellous. This is not a love letter; this is a damned warning that hopes to rattle those that would dare pursue creativity. From towing an elephant up a hill in a brief and isolated moment that reflects on Werner Herzog and the Fitzcarraldo issue, there is the worry that everything Chazelle puts on screen is up for interpretation by the director or actor’s mind. Much of Babylon is gluttonous and joyously so. Dynamic and colourful, championed well by an articulate Margot Robbie, supported well by Brad Pitt and Red Hot Chilli Peppers alumni Flea. Babylon is full of surprises, most of all in how it shifts the goalposts of what horrifies the old generation and how those fundamental fears are still present for the new. 

This is a depravity that still lasts in short, frowned-upon bursts. Deadly sins and repugnant horrors mark the beginning and end of party time. It is likely a miracle anything was made in this time of turmoil. Chazelle has some neat tricks up his sleeve, the panning camera working its way through the mania of big band features and the impact of the Roaring 20s. Poised and aggressive love letters to the days of charming eccentricity are handled well by those who were not there for it. Somehow, somewhere, Chazelle gets his hand on the core values of these explosive personalities. They are eccentrics first, and entertainers second, but wish they were the reverse. Pitt presents that well, Robbie the turnover. Both are exceptional. It pursues the reason people want to be entertained, never figures out why and has fun in ignoring that failure.  

Articulate, truthful and hoping to take no prisoners in a direct shot at how Hollywood was and is run, Chazelle pulls off an exceptional and motivating feature. Lofty targets are set and missing the mark appears intentional. Does cinema exist to make sure people are not alone? Jack Conrad (Pitt), for a time, believes so. Title cards that open a half hour in, booming orchestras and back-and-forth chills that cement the bodyguards, beatdowns and bullet rain that eventually explodes. It never feels out of reality despite the incredible range of people, places and plots bubbling over. Chazelle has contained a disaster, an explosive experiment as best he can and the result is an informed, invigorating and crucially enjoyable feature that hopes to capture the charms of Hollywood and leave no stone unturned. In doing that, Chazelle turns Babylon into a palette cleanser for all those Hollywood heroes who hope to profess their love of the big screen the standard way.  

Ewan Gleadow
Ewan Gleadow
Editor in Chief at Cult Following | News and culture journalist at Clapper, Daily Star, NewcastleWorld, Daily Mirror | Podcast host of (Don't) Listen to This | Disaster magnet

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