March 23, 2023
Babylon out in UK Cinemas 20th January 2023 (paramount Pictures)

Margot Robbie plays Nellie LaRoy and Diego Calva plays Manny Torres in Babylon from Paramount Pictures.

Film Review – Babylon (2023)


It’s always strange as a critic when you come to review a film that has been doing the rounds for months before you come to see it. The die has been cast, the verdicts are in and, as much as you might try, it’s hard not to read reactions and thoughts about the film, especially when, in Babylon‘s case, it has been part of prestigious festivals in the lead-up to awards season and opened in the US weeks ago. Still, you try to block out the noise and go in as blind and with as few preconceived notions as possible but such has been the noise around Damien Chazelle‘s audience-splitting opus, it’s been that little bit harder.

Coming off the back of the brilliant Whiplash and La La Land, which drew huge praise and acclaim, as well as his 2018 biopic of Neil Armstrong, First Man, Chazelle has quickly built up enough stock and accolades in the glitzy cinema town that he (and we) love so much that he has undertaken his biggest project yet, a trip back to the 1920’s and the birth of the talkies as the glamour and excess of early cinema began to take hold. Made for a cool $80million – you can certainly see where the money has gone, that’s for sure – Chazelle takes his love of the medium into the stratosphere with a kinetic, wild, eye-popping, and barmy tale of the passing of the cinematic torch and everything else in between. Frankly, even the trailers and advertising can’t keep up with just how much is going on in the film and the rate it goes at. Drawing on his experiences in his relatively short career so far, you can’t say the filmmaker isn’t a hugely talented craftsman and his artistry, especially with his camera, have to be seen to be believed.

However, despite its obvious charisma and frivolity, Babylon, sadly, falls flat in almost every other way, becoming a tedious chore that cannot decide what sort of story it wants to tell, if any, given the scattershot, ridiculousness of some of it. It makes for a three-hour epic – and it is epic – that feels cumbersome, sluggish and misjudged. You can see what Chazelle is trying to tell, but under the weight of both ideas and expectations, it never finds it footing and, at times, feels like you’re walking through quicksand rather than hurtling along on the rollercoaster it wants to be. When it’s good, it’s great: one sequence on a now fully-equipped sound stage as the actors and filmmakers wrestle with their new challenges, is hilarious and biting, but they are few and far between. There’s fantastic turns from Robbie – as alluring, energetic and propulsive as she has ever been – and Pitt, perfectly charming as the Hollywood icon of the piece, as well as super support from Jean Smart, Jovan Adepo and Tobey Maguire in a stupendously outlandish scene that threatens to burn out your eyeballs.

So, is this me recommending Babylon? Well, yes and no. There’s no doubt under Chazelle‘s accomplished direction and the lush cinematography of Linus Sandgren (their third team-up) that there’s treats encased in the film’s bawdy, eccentric, frustrating trip down memory lane but so sporadic are they that they feel less impressive when packaged within a film that feels like a real chore as we try to navigate its full vision. Despite its flamboyance, its originality and its gambles, it falls to earth with a drunken thud rather than a graceful dismount.


Drama, Comedy | USA, 2022 | 18 | Cinema | 20th January 2023 (UK) | Paramount Pictures | Dir. Damien Chazelle | Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Diego Calva, Jovan Adepo, Flea,