‘Noah’ a sinking ship

By Nathan Frontiero


Darren Aronofsky, a director best known for the 2010 film “Black Swan,” has fallen victim to that most dreaded art-versus-production trope of Hollywood; a big budget.

“Noah,” his latest effort, had financial backing north of $100 million, and you can see every cent of it. Everything about this film is supersized – giant tracking shots, a showy score and CGI as far as the anamorphic eye can see. Yes, this is an epic film adapted from a biblical story (and an admittedly very short biblical story at that), but Aronofsky, who also co-wrote the script with Ari Handel, gets far too carried away with showing grand, sweeping scale. He sacrifices compelling cinematic storytelling in favor of heavy-handed, gargantuan spectacle.

Matthew Libatique, a frequent collaborator with Aronofsky, saturates his cinematography in bold, vibrant colors. The sky and the earth are practically shining in their respective blues and greens. Dusk and dawn explode with purple and orange hues so brightly burning it’s as if every rotation of the early earth necessitated some absurd conflagration. The visual palette is so overloaded that it’s nearly impossible to settle into the story. Too much screen time is spent barraging the audience with these loud images. Aronofsky wants so very much to express this age-old story, but his efforts are far too muddled by the heavy-handed production value to leave a lasting impression.

Russell Crowe shows commitment as the titular character, but he settles into a dull rhythm. His portrayal of Noah begins with his usual husky, gruff voice, and doesn’t move too far beyond that. When he’s not looking up at the sky in awe seeking word from the Creator (the film’s choice nomenclatural euphemism for “God”) he’s barking orders at his family or at his strangely motivated adversary, Tubal-Cain (an equally grumpy Ray Winstone).

The decent supporting cast is squandered. Noah’s son Shem has a wife (played by Emma Watson), and brother Ham (Logan Lerman) wants a wife, too. Ham’s motivation is understandable, but his character is only allowed that single beat and nothing further to expand into. The film’s limited script reduces turns from Jennifer Connelly and even Anthony Hopkins to token characters.

The film has elicited a backlash of sorts for the creative liberties it takes with its source material. That criticism may be valid (as aforementioned, the portion of the Bible that constitutes this story is not particularly large) but it does, in some senses, miss the point. The problem with “Noah” isn’t that it runs with the story, but rather that it hits the audience over the head with it. Aronofsky keeps returning to the same images, three symbols of Adam and Eve’s original fall from grace, dark visions warning Noah of impending doom. It’s as if the director truly believed that the audience wouldn’t catch on. There’s nothing objectionable about Aronofsky’s hand, but he keeps shoving it overtly in the audience’s face.

Humanity is rife with sin, and as a great flood looms the task of preserving the innocent (beasts of the land and sky) falls upon Noah. The film jumps through the construction of his great ark with perhaps its most unsubtle series of shots. Skittering stop motion sends the viewer racing across the earth as a holy river brings life to grow the necessary forest for materials. The large shots of legions of wild animals marching inside the nearly finished ark are truly astounding images, but they become grating amidst the visually overcrowded film. Everything in this film is cranked up to the high heavens. “Noah,” consequently, becomes work to watch, especially as the story progresses along an unexpected darker path.

Ultimately, the film passes off the work of effective storytelling to its bloated, overwrought imagery, and falls flat. Aronofsky has helmed a few brilliant, complicated films, but here he simply loses touch in his sweeping, misguided ambition. “Noah” might fill your field of vision, but it won’t stick with you.

Nathan Frontiero can be reached at [email protected].