Walking out of Noah, Darren Aronofsky‘s new film about the biblical seaman who saved 2 of every living creature so he could replenish the Earth after it was laid waste by god’s vengeance I thought if I had to describe the film in one word, that word would be “ic.” As a film, the music was bombastIC, the storytelling was didactIC and the overall filmmaking pedantIC. So yeah, -ic would be a good way to describe it. This is certainly not what I was expecting from the director of Black Swan or Requiem for a Dream. Granted, I wasn’t expecting much, but this was even less than that.
The film opens with musical stings highlighting the opening passages of the bible. We get a starry field with words… something like “In the beginning there was darkness.” And then the music would pound like a possessed Doc Severinsen underlining one of Johnny’s jokes. Every title card had this musical sting until the seats were literally vibrating with the “importance” of what was being shown. Then we get mixed images of the fall from heaven and the fall from grace until we get to the final descendent of Adam and Eve’s third son, Seth, who is called Noah, about to receive his birthright. He is the tenth generation removed from the garden and the sole heir on this bloodline. Cain, on the other hand, has been fruitful and multiplied, creating cities and devastation and it is Cain’s descendants who show up and kill Noah’s father.
Time jumps forward at this point and Noah is now grown up and looking like Russell Crowe. He is married to Jennifer Connelly and they have three kids, Ham and Shem and a baby who is called Japheth but never really amounts to much so it’s almost as if he’s forgotten. Noah gets word from The Creator (a god stand-in because, for some reason, not actually calling him “god” is going to make the movie more secular?) he needs to reach out to his grandfather, Methuselah (portrayed by Anthony Hopkins – and if you’re wondering why I didn’t afford the other two leads the same courtesy of separating them from their characters, read on) so the whole family sets out on a journey. Along the way, they rescue a little girl who grows up to be Emma Watson. Oh yeah, and they also team up with the fallen angels who are now rock creatures stuck on Earth, abandoned by The Creator for wanting to help mankind.
In Methuselah’s cave, Noah discovers that The Creator is going to destroy the world in a flood and we, as viewers, learn that Methuselah has some pretty cool magical powers. He also has a seed from the Original Garden for Noah to plant. He does and from it springs forth a whole forest from which he’ll get the wood to build his ark. Everything goes along, the ark gets built, the kids grow and all is right with the world until Ray Winstone, I mean Tubal-Cain, (yup, the same guy who killed Noah’s dad) shows up to demand passage on the Ark for his people (denied) or, if that’s not gonna fly, to let it be known that he’s a man with free will and no Creator is gonna tell him what to do.
Fights ensue, the rain starts, the Ark goes sailing and most everything follows generally along the lines you remember from childhood stories. Well… not exactly, but hey, no spoilers here. At least no more.
So now that you know what you’re seeing on screen, let’s talk about what’s happening off-screen. It seems like Aronofsky is absolutely asleep at the wheel on this one. The easy effects are weak (green screens are obvious) and while the rock angels look good, they still succumb to the lack of weight and density which affects most large CG characters. But, hey, that’s all forgivable. It’s in the performances and script where I took the most exception.
There’s an old adage in the theatre which defines directing as “fixing the mistakes you made in casting.” That is to say, a good actor knows what they’re doing and need little in the way of actual direction. It’s fairly obvious Aronofsky not only made mistakes in casting, but then failed to fix them as well. Half the time, the actors aren’t even reacting as if they’re in the same scene and the other half, their emotional performances swing so wildly from one second to the next that was causing more seasickness than the strangely static ark. Emma Watson, in particular, is wasted here. She’s not a bad actress but evidently she needs a much surer hand on her emotional tiller than Aronofsky could provide. Jennifer Connolly, who has worked with him before, was probably counting on that friendship to let her slide and Crowe…well he’s pretty much settled into the “Russell Crowe” character at this point of his career so there’s no surprise there.
The script has more holes than the Ark and I was left constantly wondering why it didn’t take on more water. Again, we have characters acting completely out of… well… character, performing actions only because the script tells them to, not because it’s what feels right.
Finally, there’s the design of the film as a whole. It looks like a post-apocalyptic world and I was constantly distracted by the beautiful tailoring of the costumes and sophistication of the metal work. If this had been a science fiction allegory, I might have bought it a lot more, but as a biblical retelling, it wasn’t firing on more than half of its cylinders at any given point.