Babylon movie review: A chaotic ride that never stops

Margot Robbie plays Nellie LaRoy in Babylon from Paramount Pictures.
Margot Robbie plays Nellie LaRoy in Babylon from Paramount Pictures. /

With the 2022 movie season winding down, one of the biggest releases left of the year is set to hit theaters this Christmas in Babylon. The latest from Damien Chazelle looks chaotic, wild, and crazy. Does the movie live up to the hype? Is it worth checking out in theaters? Let’s dive in.

Babylon follows the story of the end of the silent era of movies. It tells of the rise and fall of those actors and actresses during a wild, outlandish journey of love, happiness, and failure. The film was written and directed by Damien Chazelle and starring Diego Calva, Margot Robbie, Brad Pitt and Li Jun Li.

As the film begins, we meet Manny Torres (Calva), who is wrangling an elephant in an attempt to get the animal to the party. Finally, after facing so many obstacles, he is able to make it happen. Inside the party, Manny is pulled in a hundred different directions until he is told to grab the rooster in the house and bring it outside. Then we meet Nellie (Robbie), who isn’t shy about how she arrives by pulling up to the party and crashing into the massive statue in the middle of the driveway. Security asks who she is, she lies, and he refuses to let her in. Moments later, Manny comes to the rescue, says a few things, and gets her in.

"You don’t become a star, you either are one or you ain’t, and I am. – Nellie"

Then as we enter the party (nothing will prepare you for the pure adrenaline rush that it is), we meet some of the rest of the pivotal characters we will get to know over the next three hours. First, we have Jack Conrad (Pitt), the aging star starting to see his career dwindle. Next, Elinor St. John (Jean Smart), a journalist whose career has been made on gossip and tearing these actors/actresses down. Last, Lady Fay Zhu (Jun Li) is a mixed bag of goods in front and behind the camera.

One of the things you can look at throughout Damien Chazelle’s first three mainstream films is they all felt tight and intimate. They focused on one or two characters in the story. However, Chazelle stepped up his game by focusing on many different characters on a grander scale, making this film feel like a spectacle and maintaining the heart that his first three films had.

Anyone who knows me knows I strongly love Chazelle’s work and have seen each of his movies more times than I can count. That said, Babylon is the best script that he has written. Something about how he put the pieces together and tied them up so perfectly (like he always does) made me love this script so much. Chazelle is one of the best working writers/directors.

Babylon is one of the years best movies

Speaking of tying these pieces together, Chazelle beautifully writes the journey of each of these characters, starting with Manny. Manny is a dreamer that wants his name in the lights. Diego Calva might not be a name you recognize, but it’s one you will fall in love with because he gives one of the best performances of 2022. The hunger that is within Manny to become everything he ever wanted to be is delivered with such precise timing by Calva. He is a STAR.

Speaking of stars, we all know and love Margot Robbie, who has delivered on an intimate and blockbuster level over the last few years. Personally, Robbie delivered the best performance of her career as Nellie. I can’t express enough how there are a few moments in this film where we witness some of the best-acted moments of the year. Her range is out of this world. Another standout from the movie was Li Jun Li. Every time she entered this film, it was an entrance where all eyes went to her. I’ve never been more captivated by a character in a movie.

"There will be a hundred more Jack Conrads."

The last performance I want to discuss is Brad Pitt as Jack Conrad. My personal favorite performance of Pitt’s is his playing Billy Beane in Moneyball, but after two watches, I am warming up to the idea that this might be Pitt’s career-defining performance. There is much to be said about how the acting world chews up its actors/actresses and spits them out, and Conrad felt every bit of that. It’s a moving performance, maybe even timely.

The relationship between Damien Chazelle and composer Justin Hurwitz is one that I love quite a bit. Hurwitz is a master of his craft and is the heartbeat of Babylon. Hurwitz set the tone early and is one of the main reasons I never felt the over three-hour runtime. It’s loud when it needs to be, subtle when it needs to be, and powerful when it needs to be. It’s truly a spectacle of a score.

Overall, Damien Chazelle made one of the most ambitious films that have been made in quite some time. It’s a massive swing of a movie that sticks the landing. Top to bottom, from the production to the costumes to the hair and makeup, they’re all perfect to go along with the performances, score, and beautiful script. Movies aren’t made like this anymore. I hope you show up and see this movie because we need more like this and less like the redundant superhero movies that are made every year.

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Babylon hits theaters on Dec. 23, 2022.