Directed by: Darren Aronofsky
Written by: Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel
Starring: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, Douglas Booth, Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, Frank Langella, Nic Nolte
It must be difficult for a filmmaker to create a modern day Biblical epic, given today’s politically-correct zeitgeist and religion being a taboo topic. Adding to the metaphorical high-wire act is balancing artistic integrity with the demands of Hollywood studios looking for a blockbuster. Somewhere in that mix you’ll find co-writer/director Darren Aronofsky’s action-adventure of biblical proportions, NOAH. Eschewing accuracy for fantasy, the talented auteur has created a film that’s massive in scale but doesn’t always manage to stay afloat.
Russell Crowe plays the film’s titular hero, a compassionate husband to herbalist Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) and father to an adopted daughter-of-sorts Ila (Emma Watson) and three boys – Shem (Douglas Booth), Ham (Logan Lerman) and Japheth (Leo Carroll). Noah is just trying to survive in the cruel world where corruption and evil have taken over. Recently though, highly-stylized nightmares and visions have led our hero to believe “The Creator” has a bigger plan for his family. You see, Noah’s been tasked by Him to do the seemingly impossible: build an Ark so “innocents” (the animals) will survive an apocalyptic flood destined to wipe out humanity. But he’s not really sure if he and his family are included in that message. And because Noah can’t just defeat a faceless enemy called sin, Aronofsky and Ari Handel’s script has to find someone to embody it. Standing in Noah’s way are a group of nefarious soldiers led by the wicked and vile Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone).
At its core, Aronofsky’s film is troublesome. For those that are wondering if this is Biblically accurate, the first five minutes of the film will answer that question. There are these creatures called “Watchers” – God’s fallen angels who’ve been cursed to roam the Earth in rock monster form (voiced by famously grizzled curmudgeons Frank Langella and Nic Nolte). And boy do they look, sound and move in very Peter Jackson-eque ways. It’s like the cliff battle in THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY met Rock-em, Sock-em Robots and birthed one of NOAH’s major set pieces. Not only that, it also tries to placate both creationists and evolutionists during a key sequence. While Noah narrates how “the Creator” made the Earth, sped-up nature photography shows creatures morphing into other creatures (no apes turning into man – man just appears, but you get it). Probably for the first time ever in recorded history, Aronofsky will have both sides saying “whaaaaaa?!”
Unfortunately for fans of his work, it feels like the supremely talented director’s innovative voice has gotten lost in the film’s expansive scope. Beyond a few montages and one very BLACK SWAN-like moment when Noah visits a nearby camp, there aren’t many hallmarks of the filmmaker’s haunting style. Don’t get me wrong; key thematic elements are there (like fear, triumph, hardship and a glimmer of hope), they just don’t feel as layered and deliciously complex. I nearly forgot it was “a Darren Aronofsky film” because of how middle of the road it is. Though I did feel moments of extreme intensity bearing down on our hero (mostly buoyed by Crowe’s stellar performance), Aronofsky doesn’t seem to embrace Noah in quite the same manner as the protagonists in his past films. For as much as the characters in Aronofsky’s oeuvre make us want to take those painful, gut-wrenching and heartbreaking journeys, somewhere along the line apathy and a loss of interest sets in with Noah. The director stops short of putting him in that same power position as heroes and anti-heroes past. Once Noah and his family get on the Ark, the narrative’s focus splits and becomes more about the people on the Ark, rather than following Noah exclusively.
With exception of the crazy rock monsters (can they be defeated by paper?), I liked what I saw in the first half – a man emotionally gutted and racked with guilt over what he’s been asked by God to do. However, once the water starts rising, the movie becomes waterlogged with sub-standard familial melodramatics. Winstone’s imposing villain turns into a goofy cliché for greed once he becomes the last evil person on the planet – replete with moustache-twirling line delivery (if his character had a moustache). I only wish Aronofsky had chosen what the film was gonna be: Pure unrelenting fantasy or gritty, immediate family drama. Because as it stands, it doesn’t do both successfully.
3 out of 5