Darren Aronofsky making an action movie is like if Michael Haneke did a children’s movie. Associating the director of Black Swan and The Wrestler with blockbuster material feels misplaced, not to mention that Noah, the filmmaker’s latest project, is also a biblical epic based on “Genesis.” For months we’ve been hearing about the notorious production and the fights between Aronofsky and Paramount executives. The troubling filming is certainly reflected on screen as two visions are presented: a modern-day action picture and an Aronosky movie. There two visions never mesh together and Noah results in a mess, but it’s an interesting mess, one that’s certainly braver and more ambitious than many studio tent-poles.
While I don’t think he’s in the same league as Paul Thomas Anderson, Aronofsky’s certainly among one of the top-tier directors working today. His surrealistic tone and perceptive eyes allows him to create razor-sharp nightmares. Noah has the same dreamy feel as Aronofsky’s other pictures but as a whole, is too large for the director to focus on certain characters and themes. It’s like David Lynch’s Dune, as both pictures share a filmmaker out of place with the material he’s working with. While Noah isn’t the debacle that was Dune, Aronofsky, like Lynch, works better in smaller, more personal visions.
Noah, played in the picture by Russell Crowe, lives in a hellish and empty landscape. One night he receives a dream from the Creator (what the characters call God) that the world will be flooded to destroy all evil and asks Noah to build an ark to carry the world’s animals to bring into the new Earth. With his wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), sons Shem (Douglas Booth), Ham (Logan Lerman), and Japheth (Leo McHugh Carroll), and adopted daughter Ila (Emma Watson), as well as a group of rock monsters (fallen angels known as the Watchers, one of which is appropriately voiced by Nick Nolte), Noah builds a massive ark to save the world while combating Tubal (Ray Winstone), a descendant of Cain who wants the ark to keep his army alive.
Like The Wrestler and Black Swan, Noah shares a dosage of nightmarish traits with its apocalyptic depiction of the flood. Featuring a fair amount of violence and graphic and sexual imagery, it’s amazing how Noah managed to obtain a PG-13 rating with just about no controversy (another reason to complain about the MPAA’s regulations). Yet Noah often feels too ridiculous to take serious. The Watchers’ designs evoke the unfortunate image of the monsterbots of Transformers and feel misplaced in this tale of deceit and destruction, not to mention Crowe has a buzz cut for much of the picture.
If I were to predict Aronofsky’s motive for Noah, it’s to take a contemporary and grave look on “Genesis.” Noah is no Sunday school fodder, featuring arguments on the survival of humanity, life and death, and morality. It’s commendable that Aronofsky has made a film that disobeys conventions, but he portrays his themes too obviously. Without spoiling anything, in the last thirty minutes Noah becomes so hung up on the purpose of mankind that he loses all likeability, making even Winstone’s villain seem logical.
Ultimately, Noah is a brave but failed experiment, one whose attempts to reach the stars ends at being at the bottom of the sea. Perhaps with a smaller budget, Noah could resolves its issues through less stress on special effects and more emphasis on character. Unfortunately, Noah too many times becomes big, loud, and sloppy and a major blip in Aronofsky’s filmography.