‘Noah’: Darren Aronofsky’s $130 million disaster

By Shawn Cooke / Staff Writer


Directed by: Darren Aronofsky

Starring: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins

Grade: C-

If you had told me in 2006 that “The Fountain” wouldn’t end up being Darren Aronofsky’s worst movie, I’d have assumed you hadn’t seen it.

But alas, in 2014, Aronofsky gives that stunningly overblown passion project a run for its money with another one — the decidedly secular biblical adaptation “Noah.”

Much of the conversation surrounding the film has been obsessed with the creative liberties taken in adapting its sacred source material. But for a piece of narrative and filmmaking, accuracy and efficacy are not always congruous. Aronofsky never pretends to attach any type of a “based on a true story” tag to “Noah,” so the differences are forgivable, but the bland action, excess and narrative ineptitude are not. 

Just like the flood he portrays, Aronofsky’s “Noah” is a disaster — a $130 million disaster.

The story’s a simple one. Maybe you’ve heard it?  Noah (Russell Crowe) has a series of visions from “the Creator” (Aronofsky’s spin on “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named”), signaling the apocalypse through an earthly water main break.  To prepare, Noah and his family build a wooden cruise ship for a co-ed pair of every living creature on Earth. 

All the while, Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone), who brutally killed Noah’s father when he was a boy, rallies up an army to attack Noah and his family. When the flood eventually strikes, it sweeps all of Tubal-cain’s army away save Tubal-cain, who sneaks onto the ark. Noah predictably devolves into a state of madness, as most alpha-male authority figures do during the apocalypse, and threatens his own family when they disobey the Creator.  Your Sunday school teacher might have left out those details.

Above all else, “Noah” is another gargantuan-budget action flick with a lot on its mind, which is a recipe for disaster more often than not. Aronofsky isn’t subtle about his messages: the corruption of man, environmentalism, preserving resources as well as a possible nod to veganism all take center stage. But very little of this navel-gazing can amount to much when giant, rock-encrusted angels are stomping around the earth.

For all of his high-art ambitions, Aronofsky ultimately falls into the genre trappings of other massive action tent poles. The rock-encrusted angels, or “Watchers,” bear a similar stature, destructiveness and badly written dialogue to those CGI robot cars. For all his auteurism, Aronofsky films his action scenes just like the next guy, with copious amounts of chaos, destruction and noise. They can be a mind-numbing blur, which makes the moments of astonishing beauty seem like even more of a letdown.

In the midst of all the pandemonium, “Noah” makes room for some captivating sequences, as we’ve come to expect from all Aronofsky joints. Noah tells his children the story of creation, Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel, accompanied by a gorgeous and off-kilter full-CGI visual of the stories. Aronofsky even sneaks in some gorgeous accelerated documentary-style footage of water spreading throughout the earth, along with a POV shot from the flood’s first raindrop as it falls onto Crowe’s face.

And somehow, the character drama in “Noah,” which has been one of Aronofsky’s strong suits in the past, falls remarkably flat. Before the flood, we’re treated to some laughable scenes with Noah’s grandfather, Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins). Hopkins’ Methuselah plays up the wise and nebulous old man trope to the verge of parody, particularly during a moment when he blesses Noah’s pseudo daughter-in-law (Emma Watson) with the power to conceive.

Methuselah’s blessing inevitably leads to some inner-family turmoil on the ark with a furious Noah, who doesn’t quite approve of intervening with the divine. And in the film’s final act, Aronofsky puts some of the message-making on hold for several scenes of extensive melodrama. Noah makes some crazed threats, and his family responds with appropriate sorrow, but it’s often hard to believe — or care — that any of these threats will materialize.     

In his best films, Aronofsky compellingly delves into the darkest corners of the human psyche. He grapples with these themes as an afterthought in “Noah,” though, and only after his immaculate destruction and preachiness have waned. Hopefully he’ll have a smaller budget next time.