Sunday, August 31, 2008

Babylon A.D.

Vin Diesel stars as Toorop, a mercenary living / surviving in what remains of, as best I can tell, a war torn town in Russia. I don't want to say that this is a "post apocalyptic" story, but there was definitely a huge conflict and , from the looks of it, most of Eastern Europe got their asses handed to them. Anyway, as these types of story go, the tough, loner, outsider with a violent and mysterious past ends up being given a shot at redemption (meaning money and a better quality of life) in the form of a simple delivery: All Toorop has to do is smuggle a young woman named Aurora (Melanie Thierry) and her guardian, Sister Rebeka (Michelle Yeoh), from their convent in Kazakhstan to New York City. Easy enough, right? Maybe not. As it turns out, factions are involved (who would've guessed), and while one faction really wants to see Aurora make it to The Big Apple, not surprisingly, the other faction does not. Along the troubled and deadly way, Toorop begins to suspect that Aurora may be a bio-engineered viral bomb designed to kill millions, only to later be told that, even though she is a virgin, she is pregnant with twins. As their journey intensifies and their bonds grow stronger, the lines of separation start to fade and Toorop realizes that his simple job has expanded past his personal desires and may now affect all of humanity.

This one's not as simple as you'd think. Going in, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what to expect and, for the most part, I was right: Futuristic action sci-fi with some fairly good actors doing their best to put some new twists on a familiar plot. Based on what I was anticipating, my expectations were not off the chart and I was only looking to be entertained on a primal level much like I have been with films like Doomsday, 300 or Wanted and, as I've already said, I was pretty much right. Taking that into consideration along with the fact that the film masterfully and unexpectedly blended the look and feel of Children of Men with Bladerunner, I was well on my way to enjoying a movie that I was beginning to see as "above average". Then, right when I was becoming comfortable with my good looking sci-fi action flick, a side door opened and the story turned into something with much more depth and far reaching philosophical implications. I was stunned and excited since, having never read the book Babylon Babies on which it is based, I wasn't expecting a story hypothesizing a future where religions, using science to manipulate their holiness, battle for the distinction of being the "one true" religion. As things began to unfold, my anticipation grew and, unfortunately, I ended up being disappointed, however, not entirely. Overall, I liked the movie more than I thought I would even before the additional plot depth was introduced, and my disappointment only comes from the fact that I felt the manipulative religions aspect wasn't explored as deeply and as satisfyingly as it could have been. As the credits rolled, I thought the movie had a prevailing truncated feel and, even though I had enjoyed it, I was surprised that certain scenes weren't explored in more depth while other scenes had the distinct impression of being badly edited on the short side. Basically, I wanted more. Imagine my surprise, later that day, reading an interview on Movieweb with Mathieu Kassovitz, the director, where he stated how frakking angry he was with Twentieth Century Fox producers over the fact he wasn't allowed to shoot certain scenes the way he wanted, how they didn't respect the script and how, ultimately, they cut about 15 minutes from the film before it was released. Obviously Kassovitz wanted an intricately thoughtful film and Fox wanted an action flick. For me, I made the best with what I was given, and I can only hope that the missing fifteen minutes will be reinstated when the movie is released on disc. We'll see.

As for the cast, Vin Diesel and Michelle Yeoh were very good. **Full Disclosure: I'm a big fan of Vin Diesel and Michelle Yeoh.** I realize that Diesel isn't a Shakespearean trained thespian noted for his subtle yet hauntingly emotive capabilities, which is good because of that whole "less is more" thing. What I like about Diesel is that he knows his limits, concentrates on his strengths and branches out just slowly enough to make you notice, and then accept it, rather than try to go all out and have the audience buy it simply because it's him doing it (Think Ben Affleck in the gem Daredevil and you'll understand what I mean). For this film, Diesel plays it tough but not supremely confident - he's a flawed character who intends to survive but, because of his performance, I never felt that his survival was guaranteed, which, to me, says a lot for the film. Also saying a lot for the film is the use of Michell Yeoh - she definitely makes the movie seem more legitimate with her strong-willed, no nonsense attitude, which is utilized as perfectly in this film as it was in Memoirs of a Geisha (yeah, I saw it and I liked it - I'm a huge Ziyi Zhang fan, just so you know) - Yeoh was able to match Diesel's physical intensity with her own silent, emotional intensity, bringing an unexpected harmony to every scene they shared together. Caught between the intensities of Diesel and Yeoh was Melanie Thierry, as Aurora, who was , in my opinion, very surprising and effective in relaying her character's insecurities while holding her own against veterans like Diesel and Yeoh. All in all, the three main characters played off of and supported each other in ways not typically seen in you average sic-fi outing, and when you add the smaller performances of Lambert Wilson (The Merovinian from the Matrix sequels), Charlotte Rampling and Gerard Depardieu, you actually find yourself with a pretty solid cast.

As with all movies in this genre, it has it's positives and negatives but, as I've already stated, because of my expectations, I liked this film more than if I had been anticipating a blockbuster. The direction is good, the scenery and overall "look" of the movie is great, the acting is above average and the story grows deeper and deeper as the film progresses, just not deep enough. I can't say that I'd recommend any friend to see it in the theater, but I definitely think it'll be worth renting since I fully intend to see it again with, hopefully, the missing fifteen minutes. If you do see it, try and keep an open mind and, while you're at it, let your open mind expound on some of the notions might enjoy it and, in the process, discover a whole new way to watch movies. Or not.


Chris said...

Hey I just went and saw The Dutchess last night. Can I say once again how civilized it is to be able to enjoy a glass of wine whilst sitting in a movie theatre with cushy leather seats. But I digress. Beautiful, lush film but man it sucks to be a woman in the 18th century.

John Taylor said...

hi chris - glad you enjoyed the uber-civility while appreciating your existence in this modern world, and I'm also glad to know you thought the movie was lush and beautiful - I respect you view and now I'm even more more anxious to see it - in fact, I'm jealous that you've already had the pleasure - I've yet to confirm any specific date for the movie in my area, so if it fails to show here, you'll have to give me a detailed account since I won't be able to wait for the video release. Just so you know.