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Babel Reviews

Despite its provocative elements, there's less to Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Guillermo Arriaga's variations on the theme of miscommunication and careless acts than meets the eye. It begins in rural Morocco, where weathered goatherd Mohammed (Mustapha Amhita) buys a neighbor's rifle so his adolescent sons, Yussef and Ahmed (Boubker Ait El Caid, Said Tarchani), can protect his flock from jackals. When there are no jackals to rout, the bored, restless brothers take turns shooting at increasingly far-flung targets, eventually striking a tour bus. Their random bullet finds American traveler Susan (Cate Blanchett), who's vacationing with her husband, Richard (Brad Pitt); the trip is a last-ditch effort to salvage their marriage, in ruins since the death of their baby and Richard's subsequent abandonment of his grieving wife and children. With Susan losing blood at an alarming rate and the nearest hospital hours away over rough roads, the tour group's translator, Anwar (Mohamed Akhzam), suggests a detour to his nearby village. But help is slow to come and as Susan bleeds, Richard rages helplessly and the other tourists grow increasingly militant about wanting to leave. Prickly government officials and overeager reporters recast the accidental shooting as an act of terrorism. Meanwhile, in San Diego, Richard and Susan's housekeeper, Amelia (Adriana Barraza), is caught between her responsibility to Debbie and Mike (Elle Fanning, Nathan Gamble), the children she's raised from infancy, and her own son, who's getting married in her Mexican hometown. Unable to find anyone to whom she can entrust Mike and Debbie for the day, she takes them along. Everything is fine until the drive back with Amelia's nephew, Santiago (Gael Garcia Bernal). Slightly drunk and seething with the accumulated hurt of a thousand petty indignities, Santiago butts heads with an officious guard (Clifton Collins Jr.) at the U.S./Mexican border and rashly decides to flee. Pursued by border agents, he leaves Amelia and the children in the desert, promising to return later. And in Japan, a deaf-mute teenager, Chieko (Rinko Kikuchi), displaces the suffocating rage born of her mother's recent suicide and her own disability into a series of blatant, joyless sexual displays. As in Arriaga and Inarritu's previous collaborations, AMORES PERROS (2001) and 21 GRAMS (2003), the flashy spectacle of intersecting narratives and its crosscutting and fractured chronology nearly overwhelms the film's simple message, in this case that despite divisions of language, race and geography, we're all connected. Ironically, by the time BABEL debuted at the Cannes Film Festival, Inarritu and Arriaga were publicly feuding, apparently over Arriaga's insistence that screenwriters and directors deserve equal credit for a film's success.