Javier Bardem cuts a tragic figure as a dying Barcelona lowlife who traffics in illegal immigrants and communes with the dead. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, working for the first time without screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga, abandons their usual intersecting story lines (so fresh in Amores Perros, so stale by the time of Babel) to concentrate on Bardem's character as he struggles to provide for his children, manage his bipolar ex-wife (Argentine stage actress Maricel Alvarez), steer his African street vendors away from police, and keep Chinese sweatshop workers out of harm's way. Cinematographer Rodrigo Pietro grounds the ghostly encounters in grainy imagery, his unobtrusive handheld camera and deeply saturated colors best appreciated in a nightclub sequence that looks like something from Hieronymous Bosch. In Spanish with subtitles.
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