Movie Review - Biutiful (**)


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BIUTIFUL.  147 mins.  R.  Written and Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.

There are three things you should know before going to see the recently Oscar-nominated foreign film Biutiful.  First, it's written and directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu - who received great critical acclaim for helming Amores Perros, 21 Grams, and Babel.  If you liked (or hated) those movies (I liked most of them), you'll find much to like or hate about Biutiful.  It's not as good as any of those movies - perhaps because it feels like the exact same movie.  Oh sure, the plots vary and Inarritu casts different actors in the roles, but they all bear the same traits: dark, depressing, and bearing little, if any, entertainment value.  Inarritu considers himself an "Artist" with a capital "A" so he's ponderous, overbearing, and too pretentious on the whole, and he has his hands full here with material that just isn't up to par.  I like the gritty realism he brings to the production design (the bathrooms in this movie are just disgusting), and he excels at filming visually and sonically audacious night club sequences, but it doesn't quite add up to a satisfying whole.

The second thing you should know is that Biutiful runs nearly 2.5 hours long.  Some movies fly by in that amount of time, others are a big slog that you just have to grin and bear through or eat your $10 and walk out.  Biutiful is the latter.  Inarritu's script wanders from scene to scene.  Every supporting character is given subplots that aren't fully developed or are dropped without reason.  I know Inarritu was trying to give "color" to the seedy criminal underworld that occupies so much of the movie, but, again, there's no payoff.  This is never more evident than in the bookends that begin and end the movie.  Same scene both times - but does the audience have any greater understanding of the meaning of that scene by the end, after all 2.5 hours have passed?  No.
Finally, and you probably already know this going in (it's the reason I saw the movie) - Javier Bardem is nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his performance here.  Rightfully so.  His character, Uxbal, is a low-level crook dying of terminal cancer.  He has two kids, a bi-polar prostitute wife, and a series of sweat shops where he finds illegal immigrants to employ.  It's a heck of a role, full of personal strife and the movie's one emotional point of entry - Uxbal wants to get all of his affairs in order before he dies.  Bardem and Inarritu milk the "goodbye" scenes with Uxbal's kids for all their worth, but, in the end, it's just not enough.  Most Oscar-worthy performances elevate the material making the movie itself something worth watching.  Not so with Biutiful.  That's not Bardem's fault - he does all he can under the crushing weight of such a muddled, overlong, and utterly depressing movie. 

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