Here’s what I don’t know: I don’t know if Darren Aronofsky’s Noah is the most pretentious and self-serious movie I have ever seen. That it is an incredibly pretentious and self-serious movie… of that I’m absolutely sure.
For the first two thirds of the movie, Noah is a relatively straightforward retelling of the Biblical text on which it is based. It takes its fair amounts of liberties in the way it interprets and stretches what is a fairly brief part of the book of Genesis into a feature-length film, but it is not until well into the final third, once the flood comes, that Aronofsky’s intensions in telling this story become apparent. Noah (Russell Crowe) is a tormented hero, trying to live with the internal conflict of not knowing how to reconcile the fact that he is the one chosen by God to execute his will with his earthly emotions. When Crowe was announced as the star, he struck me as pretty uninspired casting, but he is actually the perfect (if expected) pick to bring this man to life. His is actually the only truly good performance in a film that is otherwise populated with such a cold and uncharismatic cast as Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson (who disappoints after giving such a lively performance in last year’s The Bling Ring) and Logan Lerman, who would be the most vanilla actor around if it weren’t for Douglas Booth, who is also in this movie. It’s a shame that his performance gets lost in a movie that is basically another big boring typical Hollywood movie.
It always seemed a little weird that a big studio like Paramount was giving a filmmaker of such particular sensibilities as Aronofsky more than 100 million dollars to make a Biblical epic. A push on part of the studio to get as big an audience as possible for the film was something that I was expecting, but I didn’t think it would be this extreme. There is little that separates Noah from the recent, mediocre, sword-and-sandal epics we’ve been getting (such as Wrath of the Titans or Pompeii). Whatever personality can usually be found in a Darren Aronofsky movie is buried under a bed made out of every cliche in the 21st Century blockbuster handbook.
This version of ancient Biblical times feels more like the a generic stand-in for a period piece, than the work of a creative person. Everyone is white and speaks with an english accent, they live in a post-apocalyptic-looking world of dark sand and lone green peaks, and they wear anachronistic clothing that looks remarkable similar to contemporary v-necks. Add to that the trendy hand-held camera and the ridiculously overused orange and teal color palette and you’ll get an idea of how boring and uninspired Noah looks. Of the movie’s visuals, there is element that works is the addition of a group of fallen-angels-turned-rock-giants named The Watchers. It’s not the presence of these creatures (which some people have said look a lot like stone age Transformers), but the decision to animate their movement in a way that evokes stop-motion animation and, in an epic like this one, the work of Ray Harryhausen. Thus, Noah evokes these cheesy fifties epics while not having half the personality or excitement for cinema that they did.
The problem here is the relentlessly serious tone that prevails throughout the movie. Giant rock monsters and flocks of animals solemnly marching towards a giant boat suggest ample room for experimentation, but Aronofsky’s movie is so lifeless. Everything is dour, and serious, and vaguely prophetical. In this way it reminded me of two equally flawed movies: Roland Emmerich’s 10,000 BC, with its endlessly generic classic epic talk, and Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, with which Noah shares maybe a stronger resemblance as far as big Hollywood movies that are way too serious go. Also, even if the director might be trying to do something different, Noah follows the plot structure of an action or disaster movie a little too closely. From using Crowe’s Gladiator past to turn Noah into an action hero to having a cartoonishly evil, Tubal-cain (played by Ray Winstone) antagonist that provides the movie with a final violent confrontation, all just feels a little too familiar.
The Aronofsky-Nolan comparison may be obvious (I’m certainly not the first person to make it), but also telling. They are both directors who broke through with independent films and later decided to take Hollywood’s big piles of money in order to direct ambitious projects. They also share certain tonal similarities, including certain self-seriousness and lack of humor in their movies. There is the occasional funny line here and there (even in Noah), but for the most part everything that is being said is very important, and things like people dressing up as bats should be taken seriously. That self-imposed importance is something that I don’t like about Aronofsky’s early work (especially Requiem for a Dream), but the director grew on me with his latter films. The Wrestler was refreshingly stripped-down and naturalistic while Black Swan (which I still think is his best film) was a glorious match between psychological thriller and camp sensibilities. Noah, however, has him going back to the days in which everything he does is supposed to be the best movie ever made.
Grade: 3 our of 10