Films about Hollywood and its storied past are certainly not new, but Damien Chazelle’s approach in Babylon certainly is. These films are usually twee and celebratory or, at the very least, don’t delve too deeply into the debauchery of the so-called ‘Magic Factory’. Babylon, on the other hand, starts as it means to go on with a 30-minute opening sequence filled with excessive cocaine and alcohol, nudity, and explosive elephant diarrhea. This decadent and excessively graphic Hollywood party scene sets the tone of Babylon, and acts as something of a test for the audience – if you can make it through this, Babylon is the film for you.
Babylon is excessive in more ways than one. The content, yes, but the runtime too – at 189 mins, the film is often exhausting to endure. Telling a similar story to beloved classic Singin’ in the Rain, Babylon charts the transition from silent cinema to ‘the talkies’ alongside the rise and fall of ambitious dreamers in the city of stars. Their journey takes them to the deepest, darkest pits of Hollywood as drug-fuelled decadence is the order of the day. Perhaps the first time the Golden Age of Hollywood has been presented as such a chaotic pit of intoxication, Babylon’s portrayal is certainly refreshing.
Performances are spectacular – Margot Robbie is an absolute force, while Brad Pitt smashes it in his second epic Hollywood period piece following his Oscar-winning performance in Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece back in ‘19. A brief appearance by a deranged Tobey Maguire is a delight.
The film looks and sounds mesmerizing – Justin Hurwitz’ up-tempo score matches the film’s rapid decadence, and the three hours certainly fly by if you’re on the film’s wavelength. If not, well, Babylon won’t wait for you. This is a marmite film through and through, which doesn’t let up from the first shot to the last. After Damien Chazelle’s previous film First Man, a near silent and gentle study of Neil Armstrong, it seems Chazelle had to make up for all that quite with some of the most bombastic sequences ever committed to film.
Babylon is either the best or the worst film of the year, depending on your proclivity for debauchery.