Noah is a sweeping enigma. It is a film in two halves telling two very different stories and those stories don’t gel together but butt up against each other like the waves against the sides of that most famous ark. This is a biblical story told via The Lord of the Rings. Noah is foremost a fantasy film for the first half, then after a clean break, a family drama for the second half. It is a scattering of things for all people and that ultimately is what I believe holds the film back. Noah never feels like one coherent vision but bits and pieces from everyone crammed together into a vessel that can’t quite keep it together.
I don’t plan to argue about the biblical accuracy of Darren Aronofsky’s film. That is a different conversation, but suffice it to say that Aronofsky has taken certain liberties with the plot out of Genesis and created a fable that is much more aimed at the environmentalism of today and the psychological mindset of zealots. I will discuss Noah as a film and the strengths and shortcomings of both the visuals and story are reflective only of the film.
The story of Noah is fairly basic and more or less sticks to the source material. The Creator has decided that mankind has become evil and it is necessary to eliminate the wicked. Noah receives a vision from the Creator telling him that there will be a great flood and that he is to build an ark to save the innocent animals so that after this cleansing the Earth can flourish again. The story in Genesis is fairly short and straightforward, so Aronofsky pads the content with plot elements to make it more dramatic. Unfortunately, the disparate elements don’t add to the story as much as stretch the plot here and there as an attempt to mask the natural shortcomings of adapting a three paragraph story into a two and a half hour film.
I will admit that a large part of the underwhelming feelings I have for the film stem from my affection for the director. Darren Aronofsky has made films that are distinctly his. They are unique looks at the world, and while some are more widely lauded than others, critical consensus has generally been in his favor. I personally am an avid fan of Pi, Requiem for a Dream, and Black Swan in particular. The problem here is that Noah doesn’t seem like an Aronofsky film. It has more of an anonymous feel that is more akin to a studio product and is a far cry from the visual panache he is known for. The only stylistic carry-overs appear to be his use of close-ups and hand-held camerawork, which feel really out of place in this story. While those choices tend to evoke immediacy and intimacy in his other films here they distract. I try not to let my expectations affect my feelings for the finished product, but I admit that Noah was not at all where I thought Aronofsky would take the material. I was expecting something more akin to the far superior Take Shelter from Jeff Nichols which I would rewatch in a heartbeat over Noah.
The cast is led by Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson, and Ray Winstone. All are fine choices and do the best they can with the material. Russell Crowe has become so synonymous with period pieces that he just feels like the obvious choice to play Noah. Connelly and Watson fade into the background for most of the picture with just a few glimpses in the spotlight. They both get their chances to have one big emotional moment before shuffling back into the background. Ray Winstone gets credited as the main antagonist, and not only is his entire character wholly unnecessary, but technically he is the second villain behind water. I give credit to the actors for trying, but there is only so much they can do while spewing didactic speeches in lieu of real dialogue. They were doomed from the script phase.
Noah is a frustrating film as it hems and haws its way to nothingness. It isn’t helped by the awful CGI throughout or the pitiful dialogue. There are flashes of brilliance, such as Noah’s recounting of creation, that are so wonderful that it just further serves to show how lackluster the rest of the film is. I was underwhelmed by the spectacle and disappointed in the uneven tone. If the film is a success it will surely lead to more auteur directors being handed over a hundred million dollars to make their epics, but I can only hope that those directors remember to bring with them that which made them auteurs to begin with. Grade: C-