Babylon | Picturehouse Recommends

Babylon is a no-holds-barred assault on the senses, a depiction of ’20s Hollywood like no other, visceral, decadent and extreme.

Ella Kemp

06 Jan 23

Damien Chazelle

Release Date
20 January

Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Diego Calva, Jovan Adepo, Li Jun Li, Jean Smart


Running Time
189 mins

Oscar winning director Damien Chazelle is a creator of unforgettable worlds, but whereas La La Land painted a universe full of magic and wonder, Babylon is a no-holds-barred assault on the senses, a depiction of '20s Hollywood like no other, visceral, decadent and extreme.

Sharing the punchy energy of Chazelle's Whiplash, Babylon promises a fresh perspective on the excess and hedonism of the film industry, revealing it to be far more extreme than moviemaking today.

It was an exciting, secret, ungoverned playground at a time before the lives of stars and filmmakers' morality were splashed all over the newspapers and gossip blogs. 

If Martin Scorsese made the world of astonishing profit and awful people look both seductive and repulsive in The Wolf Of Wall Street, Chazelle promises to do the same thing with the film industry.

"I wanted to capture just how big and bold and brash and unapologetic that world was," Chazelle told Vanity Fair. "It was really a wild West period for these people, this gallery of characters, as they rise and fall, rise, fall, rise again, fall again."

The film might boast a starry cast including (deep breath) Brad Pitt (who performs a spectacular pratfall over a balcony), Margot Robbie, Jovan Adepo, Olivia Wilde, Flea and Tobey Maguire as real-life producer Irving Thalberg, but breakout performer Diego Calva is our man in the spotlight here. 

He plays Manny Torres, a Mexican-American film assistant finding his way through the industry as Hollywood grapples with the shift from silent films to sound films.

If it's set in the same milieu as Singin' In The Rain, Babylon goes bigger, harder, darker than ever before. Manny is at the centre of an entire universe expanding and exploding. Also look out for rising star Li Jun Li as the instantly iconic Lady Fay Zhu.

Babylon teases a spikiness too. In the very first trailer, we meet Robbie's Nellie LaRoy as she's snorting substances and rambling about her dreams. 

There's a gleeful disregard for paying taxes, tradition and any kind of convention that would mean going about things quietly. Make a scene, Chazelle and his circus of performers tell us.

Chazelle has dubbed the film the hardest of his career, mounting huge party scenes and set-pieces of wantonness. 

Although the characters lead messy lives, there is tremendous technical precision within the filmmaking. 

Chazelle reunites with cinematographer Linus Sandgren and composer Justin Hurwitz from La La Land (both Oscar winners for their work on that film) to bring this old world to life with brand new pizzazz. 

The film also pays tribute to the great musicians of the day, with Adepo's significant role bringing to life Sidney Palmer, a jazz trumpet player. The actor was hand-picked by Denzel Washington to play his son in Fences – his stand-out- talent clearly not going unnoticed.

Chazelle is resurrecting old Hollywood, keeping the glam and the glitz but adding a new edge, making the modern day Tinseltown look like a kindergarten. 

There have been plenty of films about the seamy side of Hollywood, but few with as much bravura as Babylon. Only a filmmaker as fearless as Chazelle could pull it off.   Ella Kemp

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If you enjoyed these films

Chicago (2002)
The Wolf Of Wall Street (2013)
Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (2019)

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Babylon is in cinemas from 20 January — Book Now