By Noah Futch
Babylon is a stunning achievement and milestone engraved in history. Not for the film industry in its current state, or during the transition to talking movies, but for us as a society. As Jean Smart’s character of Elinor St. John states to Diego Calva’s Manny Torres, “you will dine with angels and ghosts.” We are only temporary in this world, and this film is altogether a love letter and a breakup letter in one. Damien Chazelle has crafted a masterpiece that not all will love, but plenty will adore. This is an epic on a grand scale disguised as an intimate and personal story of four characters who are navigating life and all that comes with it.
Spanning three decades, we intertwine between these four characters’ stories, rise to glory, and fall from grace all in the same. The undeniable star of the film is Diego Calva as Manny Torres, a Mexican immigrant who works from the ground up to reach his ambitious dreams. Margot Robbie is enthralling as the electric and bold Nellie LaRoy. In her own words, you are either born a star or you aren’t, and both Robbie and her portrayal of LaRoy are undeniable. Jack Conrad, played by the one-and-only Brad Pitt, is a superstar in the silent film era. He knows his role and acts like it. Conrad drinks himself to the edge on and off set and somehow always finds the performance of a lifetime. The underrated star of the film in my eyes is Jovan Adepo who plays Sidney Palmer, a jazz trumpet player who starts out playing party gigs and works his way up to headlining film scores and eventually acting in movies centered around his playing abilities. His nuanced anger and tension when it comes to the racism thrown his way are beautiful and palpable.
The fast-paced and chaotic nature of the film perfectly captures the energy and excitement of the era, and Chazelle’s touch of the camera is nothing short of tangible. However, Babylon is not just a love story set against the backdrop of the film industry. The relationship and power dynamics of Nellie and Manny shift depending on where we are in the story. It’s truly a tragic tale of the cost of success and the sacrifices one must make to achieve their dreams.
The film industry is depicted as a ruthless and unforgiving place, with the characters constantly fighting for their place in the spotlight. It’s a harsh reminder of the price of fame and the sacrifices one must make to achieve it. But despite the tragic undertones, there are moments of levity and joy throughout the film. The party scenes in particular are electric and full of energy, with the camera whirling and pulsating to the beat of the music.
The stunning cinematography is the cherry on top. We are thrown into the deep end of Chazelle’s love and admiration for classic film and Hollywood while getting to admire every shot for the perfect amount of time. The lengthy 189-minute runtime is intimidating to some, but I felt as though it hit every note and squeezed every second out of the screenplay. The moments that required breathing room received it, and the quick cuts and fast-paced editing sped us through the party scenes and got our hearts racing. The soundtrack is an unbelievable achievement that Justin Hurwitz should be praised for. His epic score coupled with Chazelle’s respect for music and how it plays into a script can be paired together as a perfect match.
Overall, Babylon is a must-see for any film enthusiast. It’s a chaotic and energetic rollercoaster ride through the early days of Hollywood, with standout performances from Diego Calva and Margot Robbie. Chazelle’s direction once again proves he is a master walking among us as one of the best filmmakers alive. The film’s ending scene is a beautiful homage and tribute to the silver screen from the beginning of celluloid to recent blockbusters. Babylon’s tragic and euphoric story will stay with you long after the credits roll.
Article by Film Club member Noah Futch