Babel is a tough movie to pin down because though it's not really about anything interesting, it has a lot happening in it. The film's series of half-stories are all tied together by a convenient little plot device, in which a female American tourist is shot while on vacation in Morocco. Who shot her, how they got the gun that did it, and what happens to people connected to her has a result of her being shot is the impetus for writer Guillermo Arriaga's script to get lost in a series of otherwise completely unconnected stories about completely different people all over the globe.
With a name like Babel you'd expect a picture about the way language and culture divides the nations of the world, causes misunderstandings, and pulls mankind apart. If there's anything that thematically relevant buried somewhere in the movie, I couldn't find it. The title seems to be nothing more than a surface reference to the number of different languages spoken by different characters in the film.
In one story we watch as the injured American's husband struggles to save her life, stranded in a tiny village in the middle of desert hell. In another, we follow the idiot Moroccan kid who shot her on a lark, as he tries to escape responsibility for his crime of utter stupidity. In North America we watch as the tourist couple's children get dragged to a wild wedding in Mexico by their immigrant nanny, since their parents weren't home to take them off her hands. In Japan, the film follows a sexed-up 16-year-old Japanese deaf schoolgirl as she roams the city looking for someone, anyone, to take her virginity.
Babel is beautifully shot and wonderfully acted by a group of diverse Hollywood and international actors. Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett play the tourist couple, and they're probably the only faces you'll recognize immediately. That doesn't mean they dominate the film though, everyone's given their spot to shine. It's an ensemble actor's dream, a series of viginettes strung together in a way that maximizes their screen time.
Taken individually, the movie's short stories have a lot of depth to them. Stitched together in a single entity though, they form a film that's actually pretty shallow. If you're going to combine together so many different stories into a single narrative, then you need to have some sort of purpose in doing so. There doesn't seem to be one for Babel, there's no deeper theme or overriding idea connecting all these little stories together.
Babel is one movie instead of several only because of a weak, contrived plot device. A gun shot in the desert is not a theme, it's an occurrence. Most of the film's stories are immediately connected to that occurrence, but for some reason it takes almost the film's entire 142 minutes of running time and a lot of schoolgirl nudity to find the thin (and rather lame) connection between the Japanese story and that occurrence. Once discovered it's incredibly disappointing.
If you take anything away from this film it'll probably be that foreigners aren't to be trusted, since the film's story centers around a stereotypical white family being abused, injured, and nearly killed by the well-meaning cultural stupidity of Japanese businessmen, Mexicans, and Moroccans. Babel is depressing, long, boring, there's not much of a story, and if it's trying to say something I wasn't able to hear it.