The best way to watch Babel is to know nothing going in. The first time I saw it, at the Cannes film festival last May, I spent the whole movie sucked back into my seat, wowed by the polish of 21 Grams director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s filmmaking and tensed-up-to-cracking by the catastrophe unspooling on screen. Babel operates with such a squeeze-knuckled grip on the viewer that it takes a while after it’s over to realize that — hold on a sec — its four interlocking stories on three continents featuring Brad Pitt and the sandbags under his eyes don’t quite connect in the ”Eureka! We’re all connected” way that Oscar nominees González Iñárritu and screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga want them to.
Now, how much does that matter? On second viewing, it’s still a disappointment that the giant, snaking plot turns out to hinge so dubiously on one minor character’s hunting trip to Morocco, but the force of González Iñárritu’s delivery is almost enough to blow completely past that. Things get going when Cate Blanchett, as Pitt’s wife, is clipped by a bullet while riding in a Moroccan tour bus, and González Iñárritu stages the shooting — and other key moments — so relentlessly that I was sucked back into my seat all over again. I’d grade the movie higher were it not for the odd decision to release (rush?) this Best Picture nominee onto DVD with no extras at all, save a trailer. Best to know nothing going in, but better to reveal all on the DVD.