Darren Aronofsky doesn’t play by the rules. That’s another way of saying he’s a lot like the characters he writes – hard-headed types characterized by their obsessive nature – whether it’s finding life’s answers via mathematical codes (Pi), discovering the secret to eternal life (The Fountain), drug addiction (Requiem for a Dream), or achieving artistic perfection (The Wrestler, Black Swan). Noah, the titular character at the center of his big-budget retelling of the Biblical tale of the great flood, isn’t any different. He’s a driven yet conflicted man, maddeningly devoted to the directives sent down by his Creator. It’s a difficult character to stand by but Russell Crowe, who hasn’t had a role this interesting since… Lord knows how long… finds the soul under the craziness, breathing empathy into his psychosis.
As for the film itself? In true Aronofsky fashion, it’s wildly inconsistent; moments of spellbinding cinema are cancelled out by bouts of bombast, over-seriousness and bizarre fantasy. Among the highlights – the dream sequences, the depiction of the great flood itself, and a remarkable time-lapse/stop-motion sequence envisioning the creation of the universe. The fact that Aronofsky manages to wrap all of the film’s theological themes (violence, the environment, the dual nature of man) neatly into one two-minute scene is astounding. But a film also needs to engage on the primal level and while Aronofsky deserves plaudits for playing on such a broad canvas, his reach exceeds his grasp in the storytelling department. Much of the post-flood drama is flaccid. For example, the drama stemming from the relationship between Noah and his son Ham (played by Logan Lerman) is not capitalized on. You’ll never hear Aronofsky admit it but the film’s very Hollywood structure i.e. its decision to include a stock antagonist in Ray Winstone’s largely unnecessary Tubel-Cain character suggests that Aronofsky had to compromise his vision in exchange for a bigger budget from his overlords at Paramount. As a result, the film feels like it’s holding back from making the leap to a truly great motion picture. Then again, successfully transitioning from independent cinema to corporate blockbuster cinema is a gift very few filmmakers possess (Christopher Nolan is an example).
Mixed bag of potatoes it may be but no one can say it lacks ambition. I’d rather have an epic that has the audacity to retell an old story as a vessel to tackle contemporary themes than another corporate piss rehash. Although the more devout of Christians may find its fantastical elements (those rock monsters called “Watchers”) and Noah’s zealousness bordering on the sacrilegious, there’s enough things bubbling under the surface here that merits a watch. If there’s anything to take away from this experience, it’s that Aronfosky has the cojones the size of Colorado.
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Writers: Darren Aronofsky, Ari Handel
Principal Cast: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, Emma Watson
Editing: Andrew Weisblum
Cinematography: Matthew Libatique
Music: Clint Mansell
Running time: 138 minutes
Rating: PG-13 for violence, disturbing images and brief suggestive content