More on 'Catch a Fire', 'Babel' | The Moviegoer

More on 'Catch a Fire', 'Babel'

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Lisa Schwarzbaum of EW weighs in.

Catch a Fire

It's a sign of apartheid wounds healing and moviegoing expectations maturing that Catch a Fire is as morally complex as it is — and that I wish it were even more rigorous; perhaps Shawn Slovo, the daughter of famous white South African activists (she told her murdered mother's story in A World Apart), was not the best screenwriter for the job of grappling with ambiguity. At any rate, Robbins tamps Vos into a muted man who can never be written off as a cartoon devil, and Luke, in a passionate performance reminiscent of his work in Antwone Fisher, doesn't hide Chamusso's flaws. With the same affinity for stories of culture clash he showed in The Quiet American and Rabbit-Proof Fence, director Phillip Noyce embraces the tale with gusto, lighting up a picture that is as much a taut action saga as it is a cautionary history lesson.

Babel

Babel looks beautiful, never more so than when Brokeback Mountain cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto captures locals at ease among themselves: Unflappable desert village life, pulsing Tokyo teen culture, and a vibrant Mexican wedding are treated with reverence and delight, in unsubtle contrast to depictions of people lost in cultural wildernesses. But at some point — maybe just about the time we learn that the Japanese papa once went hunting in Morocco — the choreography of clashes (for which González Iñárritu won the directing prize at the 2006 Cannes film festival) begins to look busy for the sake of math, not for message. Measured in anything other than biblical cubits, the sum of Babel's many parts turns out to be a picture that suggests Americans ought to stay home and treat their nannies better.


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