Third time is not the charm for Mexican director Alexander Gonzalez Innaritu. Innaritu (21 Grams, Amores Perroes) specializes in complex intensely emotional stories usually told out of order.  Third time was the charm for his writing partner Guillermo Arriaga, who has worked with Innaritu on all his films, then took the time to write the searing The Three Burials of Melquiades EstradaBabel is again the same team, and it is sprawling, but not in a good way.  Innaritu and Arriaga wanted to make a film about communication between people, and the relationships between parents and children.  It too often feels like they are reaching for some grand conclusion that they cannot quite grasp - Babel feels a bit incomplete.  It starts off strong, but then doesn't go where it should.

There are three primary stories in Babel, all of which unfold relatively in order.  Richard (Brat Pitt, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Ocean's Twelve) and Susan (Cate Blanchett, The Aviator, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou) are on vacation in Morocco.  Their marriage is strained, and Susan doesn't really want to be there.  They are touring the Moroccan desert by bus, going to all the out of the way places that nobody ever goes to.  On a desolate stretch of highway, Susan is shot and seriously injured.  There is no help nearby, and Richard cannot communicate well enough with locals to ask for it.  They are stuck a small hut in an isolated town, waiting for an ambulance while Susan fights for her life.  America views the shooting as a terrorist incident, which is causing a lot of red tape.

Meanwhile in Los Angeles, their children are under the care of their nanny Amelia (Adriana Barraza, Amores Perroes, La Paloma de Marsella).  Her son is getting married in Mexico, and she wanted to attend the wedding, but due to Susan's situation, Richard doesn't want Amelia leaving the children alone (the biggest plot hole - even if Susan wasn't shot, the children would be in the same situation).  Amelia cannot find anybody to take the children, so she decides to take them to Mexico with her, against the wishes of her nephew Santiago (Gael Garcia Bernal, The Science of Sleep, The King).  The plot thread that feels the most peripheral takes place in Japan, where Yasujiro (Koji Yakusho, Memoirs of a Geisha, Warm Water Under a Red Bridge) is dealing with open rebellion with his daughter Chieko (Rinko Kikuchi, Survive Style 5+, 69).  Chieko is deaf and wants nothing to do with her father, who is at a loss on how to respond to her.  She is lonely, and a deaf mute, which only increases her feelings of isolation.

Individually, each story, including one about the two farm boys in Morocco who inadvertently shot Susan, is strong.  Innaritu knows how to work with actors well, and everybody gives strong performances.  All of the characters are put into extreme circumstances, and have no control over their situation.  Pitt and Barraza each must try to figure out how to save others, all while in less than ideal conditions.  Innaritu's penchant for flipping between one story and another is not distracting - he does it to build tension.  However, some of the stories seem a bit flimsy, and others seem a bit artificial.  Bernal's character does some pretty illogical things, done primarily to move the story into more dangerous territory.  Innaritu and Arriaga are both extremely talented, but probably needed an independent look at Babel before making the film.

Mongoose Rates It: Okay.
2 hours, 22 minutes, English, Arabic, Spanish, and Japanese with English subtitles, Rated R for violence, some graphic nudity, sexual content, language, and some drug use.

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