(Rohan Morbey, who blogs at Stop Thinking For Yourself UK,was rather disappointed by Darren Aronofsky's Noah, and has let us cross-post his UNenthusiastic review here. We're always happy to include his posts here, and recommend that you follow Rohan on Twitter.)
This is a film review. I’ve not read The Bible, I’m not a religious person in the slightest although I have no issue in any way, shape or form with those who are. I watched it solely because it is the latest film from director Darren Aronofsky, a film maker I admire greatly, and will be reviewing it as a movie, not as a filmic telling of a story I haven’t read.
As a movie, Aronofsky’s Noah is a rather boring affair. Despite all of it spectacular special effects, superb sound effects and sound effects editing, and every one of its 130 million dollars budget right up there on the screen, there is not enough to entice the audience in, grip us, and make all of the death and destruction worth the 140 minutes we’re asked to invest. That’s not to say all is lost from start to finish, but the underwhelming feeling cannot be denied.
I had no preconceptions of the film, having avoiding all the usual online columns, making ofs, interviews, and trailers. But the thought of Aronofsky in control of a blockbuster budget (at last, as previous incarnations of Wolverine, Batman, and Superman all passed him by) gave me hope that this would rise above the usual CGI-driven spectacle. After all, he is a director with a fantastic body of work, including a genuine 5 star modern masterpiece in the shape of his 2000 picture Requiem For A Dream and the others not too far behind, and he deserves to be cited as one of the finest American film makers to rise to prominence in the past 20 years. This, it pains me to say, is a major step backwards compared to what we’ve become used to from him.
Aronofsky is drawn to stories of characters that will go beyond the limits to fulfill an obsession or goal, and Noah is no different; he is told by God to build an ark big enough to fit two of every animal on Earth in order to survive an unstoppable flood which will kill everyone and everything not inside that ark. I can understand why Aronofsky was drawn to this story and why Paramount stumped up the cash in light of previously successful historical ‘epics’ and Russell Crowe’s name splashed all over the posters, but the end product is both alarmingly keen to please all audiences, and void of any interesting characters other than the titular one.
Aronofsky is a visual director. He’s never been a director-for-hire and each of his films prior to Noah have a visual flair or signature, each one different to the last. However, save for two excellent sequences, the film looks, sounds (dialogue, not the effects), and is paced like any other safe Hollywood spectacle. The inclusion of rock monsters (or ‘Watchers’ as they’re referred to) may antagonize some of the more religious viewers, but for me they were a real frustration as the film resorted to The Lord Of The Rings-style battles which, quite frankly, looked ridiculous and a decade too late. Add to this their human voices (Nick Nolte being one of the voices) and it’s no different than the much (and rightly) maligned Transformers series where nothing said holds any dramatic weight due to the sheer stupidity of it all.
The two sequences where Aronofsky shines are clear for all to see; the river of water and the creation of the world are quite excellent to watch unfold, but they cannot save a production where the remainder looks designed to within an inch of its life, and not in a purposely ‘cool’ Oblivion kind of way. The costumes, make up, hair styles, an design of the ark are so perfect and meticulous that it has the reverse effect on me; I’m not transported to this time period and believe in what I’m seeing, probably not helped by dialogue so boring that I’m forced to find something else to concentrate on, only to see right through it.
As mentioned, no one other than Noah brings anything interesting to the story, with his wife (a wasted Jennifer Connelly) having one scene where she gets to cry and scream, and his kids each representing a flaw in the human condition and little else. The worst character by far is Tubal-cain, a man who exists in the screenplay purely to act as a nemesis and cause a mass battle (which exists to satisfy the action-hungry audience members) and be there to have a fist fight with Noah at the end. Add to this Ray Winstone’s gloriously awful performance as an East End double ‘ard bastard playing dress up and these scenes are pretty much a failure. Winstone must be the worst good actor in cinema today; a man who is clearly very talented in Sexy Beast type roles, but shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a production like this... or Indiana Jones... or The Departed.
Once the flood is over there is another 30 minutes still to come. This is where the screenplay really shows its weaknesses and resembles a soap opera; will Noah kill a baby? Will Tubal-cain kill Noah? Will Noah’s son forgive him for allowing a girl (he’d known for all of 10 minutes) to die? And above all who actually cares? That’s a big problem with the film; it wants to ask questions about God, his power, what’s right and wrong, but it’s so uninteresting in the context of this screenplay that one simply can’t emotionally invest.
It’s easier to say what didn’t work about Noah than what does, because the things which worked are not unique to this film. It’s the awesome special effects, the huge scale, the sheer cinematic scope of the film and those two aforementioned sequences of visual brilliance by the director which just about keeps it afloat (excuse the pun). As for the rest, it’s inexcusably forgettable and that’s something you should never want to label a Darren Aronofsky film as being, but it’s the truth.