Film Review – January, 2007

POWER OF BABEL – by Chris Prince

Can a single moment change your life forever? Babel star Brad Pitt and director Alejandro
Gonzales Inarritu discuss the complexity of fate…

There can’t be many places on earth that brad Pitt can walk around these days without
being recognized, but the remote area of Morocco where the actor shot his scenes for
Babel offered him a rare taste of anonymity.

“Yeah. Fair to say it was actually very freeing in that sense, where you just concentrate
on the work,” concedes Pitt. “I appreciate that. I like an adventure, I like to get out
into another area in some place I haven’t spent a lot of time. It’s one of the perks that
we get to experience, to really get under the skin of a place. I’ll take (a role) because
of that.” Director Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu was keen to make the most of the location
as well, convincing many of the locals, some of whom had never even seen a camera before,
to appear in the film. “Of course you’ve got to credit Alejandro wth great casting,”
enthuses the Oklahoma-born actor. “The kids and people in the village we filmed in, for
example, a lot of the characters were cast straight from the village. And I was surprised
how easily they picked it up and understood what they were trying to get across. And
even with the language barriers, I was just really surprised. And I mean, it took me down
a notch. Incredible.”

Indeed, the film as a whole was a pleasantly humbling experience for Pitt, who enjoyed
ditching his leading man status to muck in with an ensemble cast. “Well, first of all,
being part of an ensemble is always more fun. You’re not scared to film,” he reveals.
“But the real joy was knowing that I can just go in and concentrate on a particular corner, a particular part of this film. And that is wasn’t just about — it wasn’t going to be about my story, and it’s going to be about all the stories and the cumulative effect of them once they are combined. And so it was great fun for me to concentrate on
just our sections.”

The intensity of the part and the pressures of working in the intense heat of the
Moroccan desert might have been too much for some actors, but Pitt managed to keep his
head during the potentially arduous shoot. “When they say, ‘Wrap!’– they got done for
the day!” he says. “Yeah, you get to rest. It’s getting back into it in the morning that’s more difficult than when you need to wrap up. And to maintain that high level of anxiety, I did not understand, going into it, how difficult it would be to maintain that on an actor level, you know?” When Pitt and Blanchett finished their scenes the movie was far from over, with the unit moving to Mexico and Japan to film the other two thirds of the film, no doubt a novel experience for an actor so used to have the weight of a movie on his own shoulders. “We started in the spring but Alejandro and company went ahead and shot for the rest of the year,” he recalls. “To see the thing put together was an exciting thing that you’ll get, because you know the story inside and out. So it’s rare that you get surprised by a film you’ve been working on, because you know too much. So that I enjoyed very much.”

Although many well-conceived films are compromised during the shooting, Pitt feels that
Babel is very much the story that he and the director set out to tell. “Yeah, absolutely.
Reading a film in print on a piece of paper, does it end up exactly the final result?”
he asks hypothetically. “And this one — from my early conversations with Alejandro who
I spoke with probably a year-and-a-half ago exactly along these lines — the movie itself
is exactly as he talked about. And that, I think, is a great achievement. It’s not about
anyone speaking, anyone saying what it’s about; it’s this undercurrent to the film, and I
think that’s where it’s most succesful. I had read the entire thing and understood a
piece of the puzzle I believe each of us would be playing and I wanted to be a part of
that, I guess. The overall statement that the film was trying to get across.”

In terms of Babe’s message, Pitt is keen to point out that the film isn’t just another
pop at so-called US imperialism and the oft-held assumption that Americans have little
understanding of the wider world. “There’s a great set-up in that, I mean, we’re so
comfortable and used to service. We have anything at our fingertips,” he says of his
character Richard and other half Susan (Cate Blanchett), who find their lives spinning
out of control when their vacation in Morocco takes an alarming turn for the worse.
“(But) I think there’s many political aspects to this film beyond what you’d call America’s self-entitlement. I think it’s a bigger issue of misunderstanding, paranoia, protectionism, which the film portrays with the relationship of all the people and jumping to conclusions. (It’s about what) leads us down this path of just really trying
to understand each other. So I think it speaks beyond America on these issues; I think it
speaks about the world. And that’s what drew me to what Alejandro was after and made me
want to be a part of it.”

Following his well-publicized trip to Namibia last May, where girlfriend Angelina Jolie
gave birth to the couple’s first baby, along with the international charity work the actor has undertaken to highlight causes such as the plight of the Third World, Pitt is
increasingly being perceived as a wall-travelled, multi-cultural figure. That’s not to
say, though, that when travelling with his new family he doesn’t hold similar fears to
the character he portrays in Babel. “You know, being a father it becomes your big worry,”
he says candidly. “It becomes the one thing that keeps you up at night: how can you
protect your children? So it’s less about yourself. We ave to make other preparations to
make sure we’re being responsible and smart in some of these areas that we’re going to,
that we are prepared. Because not everyone has the luxurious healthcare that we have and
the opportunity for assistance in that way.” Now 42 and the father not only to newborn
Shiloh Nouvel Jolie Pitt, but the legal father of Angelina’s two adopted children, Zahara
and Maddox, Pitt’s priorities are rapidly changing, wih the actor even worrying about his
back catalogue of movies. “That’s exactly my thoughts now these days,” he says laughing.
“Oh my God, what did I do? What are they going to see?’ from (my) films from the past. I
start making that list! But yeah, it’s definitely part of what I’ll approach in the
future. I’ll try to be a little bit more mature about my decisions.

“I don’t have anything specifically that I’ll be working on,” he says when asked whether
any of these future films will have an international flavour like Babel. “On a production
level we’re working on a few pieces that will take place abroad. One specifically: we’re
going to India in a month, I believe, to start filming on a project over there. But yes,
for me, you know, I consider myself more a citizen of the world. And for me, I have great
pride to just sit with all the people who I’ve been involved with on Babel, and know that
we all came together. I find it exciting. But to be a part of a film that was able to do
that, was able to bring it all together i that way, gives me great pride. And yes, I hope
I do something like that again.”