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Babylon  (DVD)


Stars: Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Diego Calva, Jean Smart, Jovan Adepo, Li Jun Li, Tobey Maguire, Flea, Olivia Wilde, Eric Roberts, Ethan Suplee, Olivia Hamilton, Patrick Fugit, Lukas Haas, Max Minghella, Samara Weaving, Karina Fontes, Joe Dallesandro

Director: Damien Chazelle

Chazelle, whose last film was the Oscar-winning La La Land, returns to Hollywood here, but to the Tinseltown of almost a century ago. It's 1926 and, after a scene (involving an elephant) that you'd be well advised to watch through closed fingers, the films opens on a hedonistic orgy involving hundreds of partygoers, several of them naked and all cavorting to the thumping jazz-rock music of Sidney Palmer (Adepo).

The first half of the movie is great, the second merely OK. And a scene where a single sound scene takes countless takes is just, well...too long. For the first hour or more, though, the film's action, driven on by Justin Hurwitz's throbbing music score, captures all the frenzy and turmoil of movie-making, as the silent era nears its end, as well as the live-for-today lifestyle of its stars.

The film is full of committed, naturalistic performances, but topping them all is Robbie, who, even if she looks more 1960s than 1920s, throws heart and soul into the best work of her career as the up-and-comer billing herself as 'the wild child'. Which she is, if in excesses which will cost her in more ways than one.

This is probably the best portrayal of Hollywood just before the dawn of sound that the cinema has yet presented - even though I still have a soft spot for Singin' in the Rain. The director does too, as he includes several clips from the film at the end.

David Quinlan

USA 2022. UK Distributor: Paramount. Colour by Company 3 .
180 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 18.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 2, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 3, Swearing 3.

Review date: 14 Mar 2023