Darren Aronofsky is a great director, but this story of Creation is not a great film. Noah has astonishing sequences, a liberated (if stilted) sense of artistry and… a cockeyed desire to stray from a faithful interpretation. At its worst, Aronofsky hasn’t come up with great dramatic ideas to pad the scenes between when the ark is built and when the flood comes – from time to time, it bores, especially when there are tight close-ups of actors waxing on the meaning of quest. Russell Crowe as the titular Biblical figure out-acts everybody around him, he’s a raging, testosterone-fueled brute among some prissy girls and unshaped boys, all of them speaking Old English. And I have an odd complaint about the animals, they don’t act enough. There’s a great shot of hordes of them entering the ark, but then they just lay there solemn and unfussy.
Grandiosity is not new to Aronofsky (“The Fountain,” “Black Swan”). The hardest thing to swallow in any of his films so far are the Watchers, a race of fallen angels calcified by magma and left to lurch across the Earth. Like the Rock Giants in “The Neverending Story” but with “Lord of the Rings” battle-ready courage, these Watchers will protect Noah and his mission from other sinful and iniquitous human beings. OK, they’re cool special effects.
No humans are worthy to live on, Noah believes. This isn’t a mission to save him and his family on the ark that will rock on a Kevin Costner-like “Waterworld” ocean. No. This is a mission to save the animals, get them to land, but terminate his family and himself and even the unborn children that lie in Emma Watson. Jennifer Connelly as Noah’s wife Naameh feels betrayed and uses nothing but words of reason at him (words taken from modern psychology, mind her). For Earth to be saved, all humans must be eradicated – not a popular notion. As a measure of heartlessness, Noah’s grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins) is simply left behind in the forest to pick berries before the flood.
Noah will be unloved by all his family but he is doing God’s just work, he believes. The third act suspense you have to look forward to is whether Noah can kill the newborn when hatched. And, I almost forgot to mention it, kill off macho stowaway no-nothing Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone), the man who ran the rebellion against the Watchers. When Noah and Tubal-Cain brawl, they look like two 250-pound men fed on hot pastrami and yard-long Lager as a daily acumen. You should be able to know who will defeat who here, but the suspense is actually how.
Aronofsky has made “The Fountain” and “Noah,” the former a very good film. I don’t know if he has plans to make a third film of messianic proportions to wrap up a trilogy of ancient angst. I could live without it, as I’d rather see more character study films of the human extreme like “Requiem for a Dream” and “The Wrestler” from him. There is surprisingly little he can do visually with a desolate Earth and the grungy ark under unforgiving grey skies. There are shots of rain. Good. There are shots of the Watchers wreaking havoc. Good, kinda. There is a time lapse sequence of the birth of the universe that is so jaw-dropping it’s almost worth seeing “Noah” for that. But there are too many suffocating close-ups, slack-jawed bad acting, mumblings of quasi-valor. Aronofsky’s mad passion this time is nonsense.
139 Minutes. Rated PG-13.
DRAMA / BIBLE ADAPTATION / SUNDAY BEFORE CHURCH VIEWING
Film Cousins: “Noah’s Ark” (1928); “The Bible” (1966); “The Last Temptation of Christ” (1988); “Beowulf” (2007).