Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Film Review--Babylon A.D.

Babylon A.D.
directed by Mathieu Kassovitz
written by Eric Besnard
screenplay by Joseph Simas and Mathieu Kassovitz
based on the novel by Maurice G. Dantec
starring Vin Diesel, Michelle Yeoh, Melanie Thierry, Gerard Depardieu, Charlotte Rampling, Mark Strong

In a world divided between commercial excess and apocalypse, a man receives a mission to safely escort a young girl from Russia to New York.

In this action/adventure thriller, Toorop (Diesel) has had his share of strange jobs. He’s a mercenary with a terrific sense of where he is at any given time. He is instructed by the corpulent Gorsky to bring the girl safely out of the decrepit, despairing Russian landscape and take her to America. He is given no other information as to why this pretty little thing is so important or what she will do once she reaches the shores of New York. A convent is his next stop where he meets the steely, serious Rebeka, a woman who claims must accompany the girl, named Aurora, wherever she goes. The girl emerges and the happy trio head out on their way as they attempt to make their way out of the country. The actual escape is certainly filled with perilous moments but it feels relatively painless as the ride a submarine, snowmobiles and a plane to make their way to New York.

The race to escape is certainly thrilling at times and redundant at others. There is energy in these scenes as the central characters are all properly developed and well fleshed out. It’s clear that quite a lot of time, money and attention was paid to the special effects and their impact is readily felt throughout the film. At times the effects to overtake the narrative and it seems as if the film is nothing more than a series of well-timed explosions but for the most part a balance is struck between the action sequences and the story proper. There is a genuine sense of comradery between the actors and the film never loses them in the mix. They remain forcefully present using a variety of techniques to maintain their integrity.

This is an occasionally very dark film particularly during the scenes in Russia which looks like a deathtrap and a degenerate place filled with bounty hunters and angry young men looking for a method of taking out their pain and frustration out on whomever they see fit. It is in direct contrast to New York City which is a thriving futuristic Metropolis that is shiny and clean and gloriously rendered in bright lights and shiny surfaces. It really is the tale of two worlds and a commentary on how America will continue to thrive in the future while much of the rest of the world crumbles into dust. Of course we don’t see Europe or China so perhaps Russia alone has fallen into ruin. Regardless, it’s terribly ugly and animalistic; many of the scenes are loud, abrasive, and typical of the rush of the errant crowd. This is the world that Toorop has ensconced himself in in an effort to escape himself more or less. But he is a mercenary with a certain code to follow and is unable to pass up such a job as this.

The film relates the plight of poor Aurora who was born to parents who prove rather eccentric in their general approach to life. The mother’s specter hangs over the film as she seems to be something of a messiah figure in a faith she wants to turn into the most powerful religion on earth. The High Priestess (Rampling) is a woman driven be demons that press her on toward a measure of greatness rarely discovered or felt by the ragged, tragic mass of consumers who belch and distress over the trivial and the mundane. She provided the eggs for the child and baby Aurora was interjected with an electronic brain that created her a rather special monster. She could speak nineteen languages at two years old and possesses many skills that she has never been taught. She also is said to carry a virus that will wipe out half the world. This angle isn’t particularly explored and it’s true the end is pretty muddled and doesn’t make a tremendous amount of sense. The father, named Darquandier, was nearly blown up and walks about with a body brace that necessarily limits his movements. He wants his little girl, his product, after she disappears in a fiery explosion that kills Toorop before Darquandier brings him back to life and fixes him up with prostheses.

So, the actual ending seems like a tacked on hallmark card. It makes sense in terms of the narrative but it feels like an easy way out. Still, it’s how all of these films end so I don’t suppose I should readily complain. But, in this one, it’s just too soon.

The performances in this film are all adequate for the material. Vin Diesel is typically blank and not particularly demonstrative when he’s not beating someone nearly to death. He has the standard robotic cadence down but there are moments when he actually seems to be acting which is progress of a sort. Michelle Yeoh is steady and confounding in a backbone role that sees her character switching from demure acceptance to shit storm fighting machine. It’s nice to see the sister of a religious order demonstrating mad skills. Melanie Thierry is certainly pretty and pouts a lot in this film. She relies on her bone structure to speak for her in many scenes and the camera certainly loves her face. But she’s not merely pretty in this one. She’s tough, and her character reflects a vitality and strength that enhances the film. Charlotte Rampling is simply spooky in this film. Her character is visible in every sector of the globe where the film takes place. She makes grave announcements in a hologram on the sides of buildings and she demonstrates an almightly cold streak with certain actions.

Overall, the film doesn’t step all over itself telling its story. Although it gets convoluted at times and isn’t ultimately satisfying there are moments scattered throughout that elevate it above the level typically reached by this sort of film. It possesses an intensity that comes through in the scenes when they are escaping something or someone. There is actual tension here that enhances the overall quality of the film and allows the viewer the opportunity to worry after the characters who prove to be believable and necessary as people. It’s not a great film by any means but it generates enough energy to keep the pulse racing. It jacks up the adrenaline and accomplishes everything it sets out to do and that is all that one can ask from this sort of film.

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