The Critical Couple Reviews Aronofsky’s “Noah”
Watching movies may be one of America's most popular date-night activities, but it can also be one of the most contentious. That's where critics and real-life couple Roy and Adriane step in, putting their relationship on the line so you don't have to.
Who in the hell—or the heavens—is this magical nightmare of a movie for? Noah begs this question, and its detractors have plenty of reasons to feel hoodwinked. Old Testament aficionados are bound to groan at the liberties taken, and kids expecting some Dr. Dolittle animal-pal hijinks will be fidgeting with boredom when they’re not peeing the seats in fear. In many ways, it punishes the very audience that the name attracts.
The nuts and bolts are there. But the Genesis story itself is only a few chapters long, so Aronofsky has a lot of blanks to fill. And he fills them in in ways that some movie-goers will find silly and others will find fascinating. First, as if the end of the world wasn’t conflict enough, there’s Ray Winstone as the evil Tubal-Cain. He’s the king of a Mad Max Beyond Redemption-dome gang of rogues, and he exists as the film’s anti-moral compass. Winstone is a meaty addition to the tale, but it’s a tale that doesn’t need a villain and an ark that doesn’t need a stowaway. Aronofsky also expands the female roles, fleshing out Noah’s put-upon wife Emzara and completely inventing the character of Ila, an orphan raised by Noah who eventually becomes baby-mama to one of his sons. The sons, Ham, Shem, and Curly (?) are basically interchangeable, each waiting to have their dramatic father/son moment.
So why does it work? When it echoes The Fountain—especially in a time-lapse telling of the Creation that both Neil deGrasse Tyson and Kirk Cameron would agree is awe-inspiring—it reminds us why we go to the movies in the first place. And when it gets ugly, it makes you root for the flood. And mercy, what a flood it is. It’s a big mama-jama of mass carnage with an Earth-sized body count. Aronofsky fanboys might not eat it up immediately, but they’ll give him an A for effort. Everyone else should be wary. As a story about beliefs that requires a major suspension of disbelief, you either roll with it or you don’t. But by the time Ray Winstone fires off a BC-era bazooka at a chunk of talking granite, I just threw up my hands and said, “Why not?” — ★★★
Noah suffers from a major identity crisis. As a film designed to appeal to religious audiences, it takes too many creative liberties with the source material, adding new characters and a dark, brooding edge to Noah. But as a film targeting the average movie-goer—especially fans of director Darren Aronofsky’s previous work—Noah also disappoints. As with his other films (Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan), Noah focuses on a protagonist with a single-minded obsession, one that eventually becomes his undoing. The other hallmark of Aronofsky’s films—his unique and dreamlike visual style—appears in Noah in all-too-short bursts, most notably a bravura time-lapse montage of the story of Creation.
Unfortunately, these auteurist flourishes tend to take a backseat to mediocre CGI and action sequences. The most egregious example of this occurs at the end of the film’s second act, when a stampeding mob attempts to board the ark just as the flood waters begin to rise. The entire sequence is dimly lit, quickly edited, and obscured by a deluge of computer-generated rain. Aronofsky makes another odd choice here; he and his co-writer Ari Handel include a group of fallen angels, The Watchers, to help Noah and his family defend their ark from attack. These towering angels are forged from rock and move in a herky-jerky fashion reminiscent of old Ray Harryhausen effects, minus the charm. The result looks looks very much like a Transformer made of cat litter, and their addition to this already-disorienting set piece certainly doesn’t help matters.
However, there are many things to like about Noah (spoilers ahead). Once the flood occurs and all the animal duos are nestled snugly in the ark, the film strays from Biblical epic and transforms into a story of inner turmoil and madness. Russell Crowe finally gets to chew up some scenery as his character becomes convinced that his mission is to save all of Creation—except mankind. This no-survivors mentality leads his family to mutiny, with one son staging a murderous coup and another attempting to escape after Noah threatens to murder his newborn daughters. In these scenes, viewers can see glimmers of the more disturbing film that Aronofsky might have made if not shackled by a PG-13 rating and the nearly insurmountable task of pleasing both the religious faithful and his fans. — ★★
This is basically two different movies fused into one, so it has the potential to please (and displease) both of you. If you like family drama, cute CGI animals, and build-your-own ark procedurals, watch the first half. If you’re more intrigued by family decay, violence, and moral quandaries, skip to the last hour. Couples who decide to buckle down and watch the whole shebang should be forewarned: there’s a good chance one or both of you will spend the rest of the night sulking.
Image courtesy of Paramount Studios.
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