Metacritic (7/10), Letterboxd (3/5/5), Imdb.com (7/10)

“Babylon” is the kind of movie that most viewers are either going to love or hate. I, for one, am one of those who’s squarely in the middle. Writer-director Damien Chazelle’s outrageous, often-hilarious, visually dazzling epic about the early days of Hollywood and the excesses that typified an emerging industry during the Roaring ʼ20s (and the attempts to rein them in during the increasingly conservative ʼ30s) tells the stories of a number of rising on-screen and off-screen stars seeking to make their way while wrestling with personal and professional demons, as well as the advances (and challenges) in using the new cinematic technologies of the era. In some regards, I like to think of this opus as one that draws from a variety of vastly different cinematic influences, most notably the curious combination of Peter Bogdanovich’s “Nickelodeon” (1976) and Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Boogie Nights” (1997), with, of course, the musical aspects from Chazelle’s own “La La Land” (2016) (despite the inherently more tawdry – and more engaging – nature of this project).  Because of the narrative’s extensive breadth in terms of time frame, characters, themes and story threads, it’s not surprising to see how this offering would clock in with a runtime of 3+ hours (though there certainly are segments, such as the film’s 30-minute opening party sequence, that could have been scaled back without losing anything). With that said, however, ironically, the picture is surprisingly well paced for one of this length, thanks to the vivid visuals, superb production design, and excellent performances of a great ensemble cast, including Margot Robbie, Brad Pitt, Diego Calva, Li Jun Li and Jovan Adepo, along with fine supporting roles by Jean Smart, Tobey Maguire and Eric Roberts, among others. However, considering everything that’s been crammed into this arguably overstuffed package, there are some shortcomings worth noting, such as occasionally undercooked character development and a number of visual excesses that more than push the boundaries of acceptable taste for a mainstream film (their inclusion as a nod to the picture’s title notwithstanding). Nevertheless, as this release also clearly shows, we wouldn’t have the industry that’s grown, evolved and matured over the years were it not for the ragtag pioneers of this period, despite their individual challenges and their succumbing to the temptations present in this often-dirty business. In my view, “Babylon” is certainly deserving of much of the recognition it has earned, even if some of it may at times seem questionable or misplaced. Either way, there’s no denying that this is quite the cinematic rollercoaster ride, something for which movies themselves are often the ideal vehicle.