Third in Alejandro González Iñárritu's films that I've watched after Amores Perros and 21 Grams his films are always contain a wide mix of characters as well as a number of intersecting storylines.
Babel is his most high profile effort with not only his frequent collaborator Gael Garcia Bernal but Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett as well. The film would ultimately win Best Picture at the Golden Globes and be nominated for the same award and many others at the Oscars for 2006 films.
The film weaves four storylines in three locations that are interconnected for various reasons. Iñárritu touches on so many themes in modern society its hard to keep track. Illegal immigration, terrorism, undocumented workers, treatment of the disabled, guns, 3rd world tourism by first world travelers, marriage, etc. are all covered here. While they are all covered here, none are covered as well as they have in his prior films.
Pitt and Blanchett are a married American couple in Morocco on vacation attempting to reconcile their differences after the death of their third child. Blanchett's character is shot by a pair of young Moroccan boys who are fighting for the favor of their father and use the rifle given to their father by the rich Japanese businessman who has a deaf mute daughter. Meanwhile the American couple's two children are looked after by their Mexican housemaid who has to take them into Mexico to attend her son's wedding when Blanchett and Pitt are delayed in returning home after her shooting.
The film is shot beautifully with each location taking on its own personality and color--tan for Morocco, orange for Mexico and grey for Japan and as you bounce between the storylines this helps maintain a sense of consistency despite the frequent transfers. Each location and storyline carries a separate language as well with much of the film spoken in languages other than English. Outside of the obvious issues being targeted within each storyline, the language and communication issues are an overarching theme. Even within our most intimate relationships we struggle to convey our true needs and feelings and the fact that we may share our primary language does little help us down that path.
The film succeeds on most levels but not all. Its a long film at about 2 and 1/2 hours and could have used a bit of trimming and perhaps an elimination of the Japanese storyline which ends up seeming like a separate film due to its first world placement. Which gets at the heart of what Iñárritu is good at--digging deeper into America and societies interaction with the issues coming out developing countries and societies is where he thrives and where is best work is done.