Babylon. Review. (Mild Spoilers)

If this author had to pick a favourite working filmmaker as of writing this Damien Chazelle would be his answer. The director’s first three films are among this watcher’s favourites in recent memory. He has this fan’s support in terms of checking out new projects for the length of his career. For that reason alone Babylon was among this writer’s most anticipated media of 2022 without a single frame of footage on name recognition alone. Then the marketing was decidedly underwhelming. The final product honestly looked like not a lot more than a half-baked Wolf of Wall Street clone that just happened to be set in the fertile ground/ prime Oscar bait era of classic Hollywood. Then the film opened in the US to wildly divisive reviews and was, to put it mildly, a huge flop. this reignited this viewer’s interest to such an extent that he honestly could not wait to see what an earth this thing had in store and where exactly he would fall on it. Taking his seat in one of his favourite cinema screens available to him excited to see what an earth Chazelle had to offer.
To preface the central point this writer is about to make he needs to make something abundantly clear. There are far more extreme movies on the fringes of the indie and critic scenes one is not going to get a mainstream audience in front of Brandon Cronenberg’s Possessor or Julia Ducournaus Titane anytime soon. That said in terms of Hollywood-level productions Babylon is without question the most insanely wild swing from a major studio and director in quite some time. This thing makes the aforementioned Wolf of Wall Street look like Paddington. A film that opens in one of its tamer moments with a live elephant unleashing explosive diarrhoea on one of its protagonists and simultaneously goes both down and uphill from there. The entire thing feels wildly excessive and assembled by a 14-year-old edge lord for a lot of its running time. Not to mention an extended third-act sequence featuring a just returned from extended hiatus former Hollywood star engaging in one of the most “I can’t quite believe this section found its way into a major movie” set pieces one will ever see. Not to mention a conceptually insane final montage. This simultaneously should get Chazelle laughed out of the building yet to a large swath of the audience will be inherently defensible. It’s also worth noting that since the film hit digital HD and this particular sequence has been clipped out as the kind of thing designed from the ground up to go viral on social media. Yet it is missing the critical bit of context that makes it such a wild choice. Yet within this smorgasbord of unabashed depravity Chazelle’s core strengths as a filmmaker shine through. The man seems incapable of making anything look and sound less than absolutely immaculate. This thing had a reported budget of $80 million but honestly looks like it cost far more. He also continues the ability to get remarkably strong performances, amazing scores (from a returning Justin Hurwitz) and brilliant moments out of pretty much everyone he works with. Not to mention that underneath the wild insanity, there is a hugely engaging emotional honesty in knowing and showcasing the type of filmmaking and wild parties depicted here absolutely would have existed even have any sort of convention for good taste and modern standards may want to rewrite them out of history. For as one-dimensional as this might sound to some it is honestly never boring even when huge chunks of it do not work in the slightest. yet these are offset by some incredible moments and sequences that balance out pretty evenly in both categories. The entire thing is an insanely wild hugely hedonistic mass that will most definitely have passionate defenders on both sides of the masterpiece/ trash debate for years.
Babylon is the kind of major studio folly that will be remembered and discussed for decades to come. Yet within the mountain of cocaine, wild partying and a pile of vomit is a superbly executed golden age of Hollywood awards play that Chazelle can very easily knock out of the park. Certain viewers will champion the film on this merit. Others won’t be able to get past its sheer excess. Yet particularly after this viewer left the cinema on the back of a montage that is effectively ( insert spoiler here) he was honestly amazed that something that swung for the fences that hard was allowed to exist in its final form. Love it or hate it is absolutely a film Damien Chazelle Would make if he was unshackled from all sense of taste and decency. Whether viewers buy into this it’s very much down to individual viewpoints. That said it’s hard not on some level to admire the audacity of this thing’s existence.


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