After “Black Swan” topped my best of 2010 list, Darren Aronofsky could have made a film about virtually anything, and I would turn out to see it. From the earliest announcement of Aronofsky’s “Noah” in 2011, I was deliriously excited to see his distinct spin on the well-known Biblical story.
I maintained faith in spite of nearly every media report drumming up controversy about the film. It became impossible to escape stories that claimed Aronofsky was replacing the original narrative with an environmental message, or that he was purging God from the film entirely. Going in, I had the impression that I was bound to be offended by something in “Noah,” no matter how artfully Aronofsky presented it.
As it turns out, nothing that generated headlines about the film offended me. What did, however, was the simple and rudimentary script of “Noah.” It felt like Aronofsky went into production with the first draft for something that shows potential for greatness but achieves little of it.
As a character, Noah feels remarkably incomplete and incoherent. His motivations are unclear, and I’m not sure whether to interpret that as Aronofsky saying God is confused … or whether Aronofsky himself is confused. Russell Crowe turns in a rather schizoid performance, grappling with the seeming non-sequiturs of his character as much as he is with anything relating to God.
In addition, Aronfosky adds various subplots (including one involving the wretched Ray Winstone) that don’t exist in the Biblical story. This doesn’t bother me as a religious person, necessarily. But as a movie critic, it’s frustrating that Aronofsky devotes such attention to ancillary characters when he lacks a grip on its core figures.
Far worse than those tacked-on elements, though, are Aronofsky’s CGI creations “The Watchers.” Because anything resembling an angel would be far too Sunday School for him, Aronofsky fashions the story’s fallen celestial beings as giant rock monsters that seem to have escaped from Peter Jackson’s concept art for “The Hobbit.” Their very presence in any scene undermined any drama as I felt like I was watching the Biblical ancestors of the “Transformers.”
The Watchers seem to be at odds with the very purpose of Aronofsky’s take on “Noah.” On the one hand, it’s trying to reclaim the story from some of the more simplified iterations by rooting it in unidealized human drama. Yet on the other, it’s also trying to leverage the incredible spectacle of visual effects to convey the epic scale of the calamity that befell humanity. So when he uses technology to focus on boondoggles such as The Watchers, such intrusions into the gritty reality of the characters’ struggles can’t help but undermine any authenticity.
Aronofsky does manage to succeed in maintaining certain aspects from his smaller-scale masterpieces like “Requiem for a Dream,” such as repeated montages of fast image succession, cinematography that haunts while it stuns, as well as a fixation on obsessive figures. Yet as he expands in scope with a film like “Noah,” these small triumphs shrink in impact. The larger picture items lack his distinct stamp (or perhaps any mark of a great director at all), and the whole film suffers as a result. C /