Warning: SPOILERS for Babylon are in play. If you haven’t taken this winding journey through Hollywood history yourself, you’ve been warned.
A sprawling tale of Hollywood's Golden Age, Damien Chazelle’s Babylon goes places some people would definitely not expect. Even with the madcap insanity shown in the film’s wildly NSFW trailer, there are pieces of this movie that nothing can prepare you for. As such, it’s time for those of us who have indulged in this new movie release to talk about something important: that wild Tobey Maguire plotline that comes into play towards the end of Babylon.
One last call for spoilers ahead, as this is a segment that takes place pretty late in the game. If you want to get a feel for whether this picture is right for you, read our official review of Babylon to get some spoiler free details. Otherwise, let’s get reacquainted with Tobey Maguire’s role in the madness, and how it makes for those wild developments.
How Tobey Maguire Fits Into Babylon’s Story
Deemed “the wild child” since the start of her career, Nellie La Roy (Margot Robbie) yet again finds herself into trouble due to gambling. On one fateful night in 1936, she calls upon old friend Manny Torres (Diego Calva) to get out of this particular jam, which is to the tune of $8,500. Thinking fast, Manny enlists the help of The Count (Rory Scovel), who says he can get that money quick.
The person that Nellie owes the money to is good-time charlie/mobster James MacKay (Tobey Maguire), and it’s a character who even Damian Chazelle understood needed some special treatment. Set up earlier in the film through Nellie’s burgeoning gambling habit, MacKay’s casting was as crucial as his presence in the movie. Appearing on the ReelBlend podcast, Chazelle explained why this was so important:
Acting as a third act nemesis of sorts, his presence kicks off the final leg of Babylon’s plot, and does so in style. What starts as a handoff turns into something much more sinister, and plunges the film back into the debauchery it indulged in through the earlier acts. Only this time, things take a much tenser air, especially thanks to The Count’s revelation that the money used to pay off MacKay is totally fake.
What Happens During This Babylon Subplot
Like any good entrepreneur, criminal or not, James MacKay has an interest in getting into the moving picture industry. Pitching a couple of ideas to Manny Torres, one such dream project involves a man that’s rather huge, and there’s only one place to see him: at a joint that MacKay calls “the asshole of Los Angeles.”
Leading his would-be partners several floors underground, Babylon shows us what James considered the last true party spot that harkens back to those days you see in the first act. Throwing it all back to a time where massive creatures could roam among cocaine and sex acts, and alcohol was like oxygen, the journey ends with a gigantic man eating a rat in front of a crowd.
Unfortunately, Chekov’s prop money is discovered as phony by MacKay. Displeased with this betrayal, he tries to have Manny and The Count killed. The two barely escape, making their way back to the surface and releasing an alligator in the process to aid their escape. Sounds pretty wild for a movie about old Hollywood, doesn’t it?
Why The Tobey Maguire Section Of Babylon Is So Wild
If you look at the marketing for Babylon, you’d expect things to get pretty wild. However, nothing indicates the horror show that Damian Chazelle gives his audience through what feels like a short film built into a larger overall movie. When you think about it, the man basically gave us Tobey Maguire’s Barbarian.
The James MacKay section of the third act is a short subterranean horror movie mixed into all of this old Hollywood excess. Expertly paced, the descent into this den of brutality culminates in bloodletting, alligators, and gunshots, which is on top of the sex, drugs, and bloody violence that occupy the upper floors of Babylon’s hideaway. Hitting this patch of the film may have confused some viewers, but the Tobey Maguire section of Babylon ties into things rather perfectly when you look at it in the right light.
The Reason Babylon’s Short Horror Film Isn’t As Wild As You’d Think
On the surface, Babylon’s Nellie LaRoy is the direct connection that makes this sequence valid. As her actions led to these horrific events, which also catalyze the final act escape plotted by Manny to escape James MacKay’s wrath, this piece of the puzzle doesn’t come out of nowhere.
Manny Torres’ involvement in particular puts a finer point on why this short horror film isn’t as wild as you think. We see the man go through hell and back in order to protect the woman he’s always loved, and he comes out of the other side ready to give up Hollywood. Putting into motion the path to Babylon’s ending, the switch in tone and genre also helps keep the three hours and change running time from feeling stale.
Most importantly, Tobey Maguire’s character fits into the overall arc of Damien Chazelle’s story. The man is another lost soul duped into the magic of the movies, much like Nellie, Manny or even Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt). The magic of the movies can weave its spell on anyone, and once that spell is broken, we go back to being who we are. In James MacKay’s case, that’d be a vicious thug.
Tobey Maguire Nails Every Second Of Screen Time He Has
Before we put this subject to rest, I need to heap praise upon Tobey Maguire’s performance in Babylon. Through his creepy, yet playful persona as James MacKay, he’s the wild card who we’re not sure we should be laughing with or running from. Playing both sides of that knife to the hilt, it’s only fitting that he landed this role that is similar to one that his Spider-Man 2 mentor Alfred Molina played in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights.
While knowing full well this man is a powerful mover and shaker in organized crime, the impish glee of Maguire’s portrayal keeps things perfectly off balance. Even in his saddened realization of The Count’s betrayal, there’s a pain in how he says, "We were gonna make movies together." But make no mistake, this man is a killer, and his deeds are felt throughout the remainder of Babylon.
This casting coup only happened because of Damien Chazelle landing Tobey Maguire as an executive producer before Babylon’s amazing cast was assembled. Through various read throughs with producers, actors and close friends, Maguire read through several roles in this sprawling epic. Once again citing Chazelle’s recent ReelBlend interview, here’s how that casting eventually stuck the landing:
With Tobey Maguire handing out booze during one of last night’s first public screenings of Babylon, the man’s dedication to the project cannot be overstated. Turning on the charm and menace during his third act appearance, everything comes together through James MacKay’s guided tour into darkness. So when you go back to watch the film again, keep these thoughts in mind and see if it helps decode any new thoughts on what’s going on in those depths of depravity.
Paramount's Babylon is looking for some party people to usher in its box office opening, as the movie is currently playing at a theater near you. And if you haven’t seen the flick, but wanted to read ahead, there’s still plenty more to discuss after you’ve taken it all in for yourself.
If you’ve already seen it all and want to talk out Babylon’s ending a bit more, we have somewhere you can head to do just that. Just don’t take that left turn back into James MacKay’s surprise rabbit hole of horrors. You may not make it out so safely this time.
Your Daily Blend of Entertainment News
Mike Reyes is the Senior Movie Contributor at CinemaBlend, though that title’s more of a guideline really. Passionate about entertainment since grade school, the movies have always held a special place in his life, which explains his current occupation. Mike graduated from Drew University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science, but swore off of running for public office a long time ago. Mike's expertise ranges from James Bond to everything Alita, making for a brilliantly eclectic resume. He fights for the user.