Review: 'Noah'

Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah,” an artistic interpretation of the Biblical tale, is an utterly confounding movie; it’s filled with the kind of bravura filmmaking and visual storytelling we’ve come to expect from the director of “Pi,” “Requiem for a Dream” and “Black Swan,” but the script – and the execution of that script – is so clumsy and over-written that nothing in it sticks. There’s a symphony of visuals here, and big strange ideas, but when it comes to the actual characters, we get automatons sleepwalking through clichés.

Taking up perhaps three pages in the Bible, the story of “Noah” is now a 130-minute movie – and you thought Warner Brothers were milking every last drop out of the books for “The Hobbit.” After a brief, artfully cut recap of the story of creation – complete with a Foley’d-in CRUNCH after Eve plucks the fruit of knowledge from the tree of life – and a prologue where Noah’s father is slain by the polluting, meat-eating brute descendants of Cain who live in the cities of men, we finally meet grown-up Noah, as played by Russell Crowe. Noah and his family protect and preserve God’s creation – unlike those squalid children of Cain with their mines and metal – and Noah gets a vision full of blood seeping through black soil and a drowned world of bloated corpses. Confused, he visits his father Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins, playing Anthony Hopkins) and after another vision realizes he has to build an Ark to preserve two of each animal while God destroys the world with a flood to begin again. “Fire destroys,” he notes. “Water ... cleanses.”

It should be noted that while Noah’s family – including wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), sons Shem (Douglas Booth), Ham (Logan Lerman) and Japeth (Leo McHugh Carroll), as well as adoptive daughter Ila (Emma Watson) – are on-board, both literally and figuratively, Noah thinks that between Naameh’s age and Ila’s barren-ness, God wants his family to save the animals and then quietly, peacefully die, preserving creation for the innocent animals. (It should be noted that Genesis has God explicitly say that Noah’s sons and their wives will be on the Ark.) While it’s fun to imagine the Paramount pitch meeting Aronofsky made – “It’s a $150-million movie about a religious fanatic eco-terrorist whose biggest concern is that his suicide mission isn’t going to end the way he wanted it to, and his biggest hero moment is when he refuses to commit infanticide!” – it also makes for a somewhat dour, sour film.

Future academic papers will, I’m sure, be written about the changes, liberties and alterations screenwriters Aronofsky and Ari Handel made to the story of Noah. The clean Old Testament prose phrase “There were giants in the earth those days” is the rationalization for CGI “Watchers,” fallen angels trapped in bodies made of stone and rock, whose CGI looks somehow both expensive and cheap, but whose multiple arms come in handy for smiting when the armies of Cain attack. And that’s one of the huge problems with “Noah,” specifically in that it combines the simplicity of the prose and storytelling of Genesis with the simple-minded nature of the modern blockbuster. Not only must Noah now be a badass who can fight, but the greedy King who comes to try and steal the ship (Ray Winstone, looking stunningly like Mickey Rourke in “The Wrestler”) is the man who killed his father, culminating in a knife-fight in the bowels of the Ark between the two that includes the most dramatically convenient moment of turbulence since “Non-Stop” a few months ago.

You can’t help but feel a little bad for Aronofsky – Paramount wanted him to make a $150-million movie because they think that’s the only kind of movie they can make money on these days, and he would prefer to make movies as opposed to not make movies, so here he is surrounded by more money than he knows what to do with, making a movie that feels more and more like “Transformers” or “Waterworld” than it does a depiction of a central story in the Judeo-Christian faith. Aronofsky uses many of his standby visual motifs here – repetition and quick cuts, hallucinatory visions – but his version of creation itself, late in the film, feels like a bored science teacher pressing fast-forward on a nature documentary shot by Terrence Malick. W.H. Auden cautioned against those who “read the Bible for its prose,” but after “Noah,” perhaps the better warning is to look out for those people who read the Bible for its potentially profitable widescreen IMAX action scenes.

SCORE: 4.0 / 10