This movie was one I looked forward to seeing. The previews made it look like a wild ride behind the scenes in Hollywood. It was to a point, but ultimately I consider it an interesting failure.
The performances were quite strong. Jean Smart has a smaller role as an aging gossip reporter, and she surprised me to the upside. I didn't even realize it was her until I looked up the credits. Margot Robbie is always a strong performer. I could watch her read the phone book. Despite those strong performances, something between the writing and editing failed in this film.
It starts as a chronicle of Nellie LeRoy, a young beautiful wannabee actress in the silent era. I originally thought that was an interesting perspective--silent film. Her rise is entangled with that of a Mexican immigrant named Manny. Brad Pitt's character seemed to be there for decoration. The thing is, I had it all wrong.
Babylon is not about Nellie LeRoy or Manny or Brad Pitt's character. It's about Hollywood. We don't really find that out until the last third of the movie when all the characters blow up and the audience is left with nothing. They show their hand in Jean Smart's last scene where Brad Pitt confronts Jean Smart about a nasty article her character wrote. The speech she gives him lays out the ethos of the movie: Hollywood is a monster that doesn't need any of us.
Philosophically, I'm not against any of that per se, but the way the writing and editing are done, it comes across as one movie with an odd switch-up at the end.
It's not a spoiler to tell you about the ending because it's a mess. It's a two or three-minute montage of scenes of Hollywood transforming into its modern form; old buildings get torn down as the town relentlessly grows.
So, Babylon is a collection of vignettes: the crazy orgiastic parties; early production techniques in the desert; secret underground forbidden entertainment; the growing pains of the sound era; the traps for the young idiot who gets her first real paycheck. Then it ends with that insipid montage that just turns the knife. Yes, you got interested in a bunch of characters that never went anywhere, but haha, we fooled you. Aren't we so clever?
To my taste, no. They weren't clever. The screenplay didn't give us a cogent narrative and went full-bore cliché. And the editing? Obnoxious. Over three hours long, this thing could have had 40 minutes cut out of it and been stronger for it.
If you're a movie-industry junkie, this is required watching if only for some of the technical details that make it on screen. Everyone else should stay away from this.