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DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:
Darren Aronofsky had a surprise hit in 2010 with "Black Swan," which won an Oscar for its star, Natalie Portman. His latest film, "Noah," is a big budget Bible epic based on the story of Noah's Ark. Russell Crowe plays the title character, and the movie also features Jennifer Connelly and Emma Watson.
Film critic David Edelstein has this review.
DAVID EDELSTEIN: Darren Aronofsky's biblical flood epic "Noah," generated controversy before anyone had laid eyes on the film. The word was that "Noah" had become an environmentalist wacko. After seeing it, I don't get the outrage. It's true that Noah reveres animals and thinks the world's worst enemies are human. But that is - not to put too fine a point on it - the reason in the Bible for the flood, no? Aaron is Aronofsky's embellishments are significant but they don't cast doubt on Noah's mission, or the idea of an all-seeing deity with the inclination to wipe out humanity as a punishment for its wickedness. Whatever else, the film has been made by an artist who believes in the authenticity of religious visions.
Alas, it's also been made by an artist in thrall to an all-seeing studio with a lot of money on the line, which means there's a big dose of conventional melodrama. The bad guys are identified as descendants of Cain, the original fratricidal sinner, and they've been busy wiping out the spawn of the brother that came after Abel, Seth. Pretty much all that's left of Seth's progeny are Russell Crowe's Noah, his wife, Naameh, played by Jennifer Connelly; their kids Ham, Shem and Japheth and a rescued orphan who grows up to be Emma Watson and goes by the name Ila. While the Cainites kill and despoil the natural world, the Sethites hide amid rocks, eating veggies and hoping for a miracle.
And then it comes. Noah dreams that God - here referred, as Creator - will give the Earth what we'd nowadays call a reboot. He has similar vision after his hermit grandfather, played by Anthony Hopkins - him again - gives Noah a drink laced with the biblical equivalent of acid. Noah and his family get busy building a great ark, much to the displeasure of a man named Tubal-cain, played by Ray Winstone, who killed Noah's father and doesn't care much for Noah, either.
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RAY WINSTONE: (as Tubal-cain) When I heard talk of miracles, I dismissed them. But then I saw the birds with my own eyes and I had to come.
RUSSELL CROWE: (as Noah) There isn't anything for you here.
WINSTONE: (as Tubal-cain) No. This all belongs to me. This land, this forest. That stronghold of yours, did you really think you could protect yourself from me in that?
CROWE: (as Noah) It's not protection from you.
WINSTONE: (as Tubal-cain) Then what is it?
CROWE: (as Noah) An ark to hold the innocent when the creator sends his deluge to wipe out the wicked from this world. Return to your cities of Cain. Now we have all been judged.
WINSTONE: (as Tubal-cain) I have men at my back, and you stand alone and defy me?
CROWE: (as Noah) I'm not alone.
EDELSTEIN: Winstone's snarling Tubal-cain is much more fun than Russell Crowe's priggish Noah, but Tubal-cain is chiefly there so the film can build to an action climax - like when as President Harrison Ford kicking terrorist Gary Oldman off Air Force One with the line: Get off my plane. This is: Get off my ark. Other family-friendly additions are the angels who've fallen to Earth and become boulders, which every now and then assemble themselves like primordial Transformers into giant rock creatures that trash-talk Noah and throw things at the Cainites. One of the rocks has the voice of Nick Nolte. How's that for gravelly?
Aronofsky's chief invention is to make Noah pull a sort of Abraham. That is, he comes to believe the Creator wishes him to save the animals, as innocent now, he says, as they were in the Garden of Eden, but sacrifice humans, including his own children. So near the end, Noah spends a lot of time chasing people around the ark like it's a slasher movie while his wife and kids plead for mercy. This is what upset the Bible literalists. But it's important to say, it's not movie's sentiment that humans should die. Indeed, Noah has to learn to get off his high horse and forgive humankind.
I liked the film well enough, but I don't think Aronofsky is in his element in a big square Bible picture. His other films are mind-bendingly subjective. The mathematical fever dream "Pi," the druggie, "Requiem for a Dream," "The Wrestler" and "Black Swan," with their masochistic protagonists high on self-flagellation. Like "Noah," those characters seek a sense of connection with a higher spirit. But Aronofsky is better when he works from inside his protagonist's heads.
I get the feeling he prefers Noah's dreams and druggie visions to mere spectacle. But a big part of the Noah story is spectacle, and this one is a feast of computer-generated imagery. None of the animals are real, which has won the appreciation of animal rights activists. But none of them are particularly well characterized either. I didn't expect Dr. Doolittle amid the Apocalypse, but would a few bahs and moos, and a friendly giraffe have really killed the mood?
BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for New York magazine.
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