A few weeks back, I was wagging my finger at the flimsy, forgettable Son of God for presenting audiences with a story that resembled a checklist of biblical events. It felt like a rushed, episodic take on the life of Christ than a lasting work of vision or personal expression. If a filmmaker is taking on a story from The Bible, aim for something that expresses the complexity of faith, induces awe and, perhaps, reflects the passion of those behind the camera.
Rather than sit through another by-the-book reworking of a Bible story, with actors adorning robes, sandals and British accents, how about something bold, challenging and unique? Walking out of Son of God, I was sure I wanted this but having seen Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, I’m no longer sure. Lesson learned: Be careful what you wish for.
By now, the word is out that Aronofsky, the uncompromising director of Black Swan, The Wrestler and Requiem for a Dream, has made a biblical epic that reflects his ideas on the story of Noah and is, to put it mildly, an unfaithful interpretation. I don’t believe that his film is blasphemous or worthy of a boycott. Aronofsky clearly cares about this story, takes it very seriously and is exploring the narrative possibilities within the framework is a brief, straight forward story.
Some lingering Sunday School questions: How could Noah have built the Ark by himself? How did all those animals get along? Aronofsky answers them in ways that are imaginative but also kind of nuts. That about sums up his vision as a whole. Like Aronosky’s The Fountain, another personal, visually rich but off-putting work of great risk and mixed rewards, Noah seems destined to be remembered as the most expensive art movie/cult film ever produced.
Russell Crowe plays Noah the same way he played Robin Hood: he sucks the joviality and sweetness out of the character and presents him as prickly and on edge. Crowe hits acting notes we’ve seen before and only his (at times hilarious) facial hair goes through great transformations. Playing his wife, Jennifer Connelly has a single scene where she has a big, emotionally stirring speech. Unfortunately, in a Blair Witch kind of way, she’s upstaged by a flurry of tears and mucus. I wanted to shed a tear for Connelly’s work but wanted even more to hand her a tissue. As the evil king of the sinners, Ray Winstone resembles the original Duck Dynasty member, providing gruff villainy the film doesn’t need. Youngsters Emma Watson and Logan Lerman aren’t bad but seem cast strictly to give the film youth appeal.
The oft-told story of man’s faithfulness to God, mockery from non-believers and saving his family and scores of wildlife by building a massive boat has been crucially over-complicated. The establishing scenes introduce The Watchers, an amusingly off-the-wall touch that I won’t spoil, though they are an indication of the film’s tone and approach; they are a wild card, admirably crazy touch that I found both terrible and agreeably ridiculous. I love that Aronofsky is taking chances and providing the unexpected. I also wish someone had reined him in. Like M. Night Shyamalan’s Lady in the Water, the great filmmaking is undercut by a stream of crazy choices, alternating between delightful and appalling.
I was in the film’s corner for about an hour. Once they’re at sea, the too-busy narrative wore me down. For a while, Noah is brutal, audacious and, most of all, fascinating. Every time I was ready to write it off, another stunning sequence sneaks up on you. In particular, an out of left field portrait of The Creation and Adam and Eve are dazzling. Once the third act melodrama takes over, I no longer enjoyed how bonkers the film had become. When the pivotal dove with the fig leaf only makes a tossed-off cameo appearance, you know something went very wrong.
Score: ** (1-5 Star Scale)