After a long, troubled production, reports of fights between the director and the production, and a making-of feature in The New Yorker that’s considerably more interesting than the movie that resulted, Darren Aronofsky’s biblical epic “Noah,” starring Russell Crowe, has finally arrived.
As an epic on a grand scale, it’s impressive, with some great set-pieces and breathtaking visuals, which is especially impressive coming from a director who’s never been near a production of this size. But as a movie? It’s kind of a mess. It’s meandering and boring for long stretches, and while I don’t mind that it takes some liberties with the biblical source material, they’re not really worthwhile or defensible ones.
Russell Crowe is in the hero role as the man called by God to build the ark to save humanity from the Flood. The romantic leads of “A Beautiful Mind” are at last reunited as Connelly plays Noah’s wife (who is not, as Bill and Ted once said, Joan of Arc.) Bland British actor Douglas Booth is Noah’s oldest son, married to Emma Watson, while Logan Lerman plays brother-in-law to his “Perks of Being a Wallflower” costar. The third son, for some reason, is played by actors who look like girls as both a child and adult.
So yes, it’s the story of Noah, the Flood and the Ark, but probably not the way you remember it. In fact, it’s probably a lot darker.
We get things like giant monsters made of rock called Watchers; a villain (Ray Winstone) who -shades of Harvey Keitel as Judas in “The Last Temptation of Christ”- talks just like the gangster he’s played in dozens of films; and even young romance. There’s even a massive CGI battle that looks like something out of the “Lord of the Rings” series. Lerman plays the same sullen teenager he’s played in numerous contemporary movies. And the characters- who use regional accents from all over the world- speak in nothing that sounds even vaguely like biblical language; Anthony Hopkins, as Noah’s aged grandfather, even makes a “what, did you get your looks from your mother?” crack. I know that’s an old joke, but not THAT old.
Yes, I get that the actual biblical story of “Noah” is both way too short and not nearly cinematic enough for a blockbuster movie. But there’s a whole lot of stuff here that doesn’t feel like it belongs in a biblical epic. A climactic fight between hero Crowe and villain Winstone feels an awful lot like a barroom brawl in a gangster film (or between the two actors in real life, maybe.) The Helm’s Deep-style battle scenes don’t feel right either. And while I admit I didn’t always pay attention in Hebrew school, but I certainly don’t remember the part in Genesis about giant talking rock-monsters.
And that’s not all that’s wrong. The first hour is so boring that it’s a challenge to stay awake through. And the third act, while unbearably tense, just feels like false drama, especially with the conclusion it reaches.
It’s not all bad, though. There are some beautiful shots, especially of the full ark and some of the stuff with the battle. There’s a dynamite sequence with Noah telling the story of creation. And Crowe’s performance is first-rate, even if he’s a dead-ringer for Obi Wan Kenobi by the end.
Aronofsky thankfully keeps the climate change allegory subtle, and to a minimum, much more so than the last time a Crowe character warned of the end of the world, in last year’s “Man of Steel.” Probably the biggest surprise is that the director of “The Wrestler” and “Black Swan” doesn’t end the film with the protagonist plunging to his death.
If nothing else, “Noah” once again demonstrates the utter bankruptcy of the MPAA ratings system. This is a film with multiple scenes of mass murder, on top of a sequence in which a pair of newborn babies are threatened with execution, which- presuming there’s no “Human Centipede” sequel this year- is likely the most horrifying thing that will grace American movie screens in 2014. “Noah” is rating PG-13, but because clearly that stuff isn’t nearly as terrible as an errant boob, or someone saying “fuck.”
My ultimate conclusion? The Book was better.