Anyone willing to produce a movie directed by Darren Aronofsky must go into it knowing two things: 1) the movie is going to be a visually stunning and 2) someone is going to be offended. In the case of Noah, the offended crowd includes absolutely anyone who chooses to be offended. Thus something like Noah, beyond the inherent risk in making a biblical movie that isn’t the most rah-rah, yay Christianity! movie since Kirk Cameron’s last vehicle, is an incredibly dangerous venture.
The movie veers enough from the original story to piss off the biblical crowd, includes a little too much religion for secular folk, offers simultaneously too much and too little of an environmental message, and there are already people critiquing its all-white cast. What’s more, this is the director who began with a black-and-white psychological math thriller followed by onto one of the most brutal drug movies ever, where small budgets allowed big risks, before finally receiving mass recognition for a spiraling headtrip based around a production of Swan Lake. His last foray into spectacle filmmaking resulted in perhaps the greatest contemplation of love and death to ever bomb at the box office.
Sadly, there is hour of back story and building (literally) which precedes this turn. The opening titles starts Noah on an odd balancing act. Although the story takes obvious liberties with original tale – using “the Creator” as opposed to “God” and visual instead of verbal clues (reminiscent of Requiem for a Dream) – there is still remains enough of the fantastical to displease people on any side of the ideological spectrum. Granted these elements look wonderful, from the Watchers to the enormous packs of animals, but it’s hard sometimes to picture such things happening in the world Noah is attempting to create, a union of reality and faith-based material that even many in the real world have trouble merging.
As a piece of fiction, Noah’s take on the tale includes many fascinating elements, particularly in its portrayal of human wickedness. Its brutality is reminder that the story comes from one of the most violent books ever created. However, the intensity of these scenes, peaking at the halfway point, is undercut by knowing our protagonists are in no danger. The entire first half, as vital as it may be to the unique aspects of this version of Noah, feels like catching up to the real beginning. In any disaster movies we know the asteroid/wave/volcano/earthquake is coming, everything before that moment is the film catching up to the audience. It’s also in this portion that we find various choices which will surely cause controversy on all sides for what the movie the movie “really means.”
Once the waters hit, Noah takes on a very different tone. It’s here that the supporting characters and cast, particularly Jennifer Connelly in one scene of barely restrained rage, take greater shape. In the confines of the arc the film delves into its themes of absolute faith, conviction and justice and impressively blurs the lines between good and evil enough that one wonders whether such things exist. Unfortunately that first hour, in which the entire world is wiped away, leaves the audience pretty numb to smaller drama. Even the score, provided by the usually brilliant Clint Mansell, is at times so bombastic that it becomes empty. And that’s where Noah varies most greatly from previous Aronofsky films: it has nothing new to offer. It’s a visceral experience, but not much beyond that. In trying to speak to as large a market as possible, including both angels and an evolution sequence, both original scripture and modern sensibility, it actually has very little to say. Of course, the same will not be true for those who choose to be offended by it.
Noah is a big risk by a brilliant director which leaves a lot to complain about and not enough good to wash its sins away.