There’s an Ark, a guy named Noah, a whole heap of animals and a rather impressive-looking flood – at face value Darren Aronofsky’s (Black Swan, The Wrestler) retelling of the classic Genesis story is pretty much on point. But then there are the giant Watchers, fallen angels encased in stone which feel like something right out of The Lord of the Rings. Dramatic licence I guess. As usual, Aronofsky’s flair for the surreal is in full effect with this very unorthodox yet still somehow faithful portrayal of the Noah epic.
And it is an epic. Although not quite in Gladiator mode, Russell Crowe dominates the screen as the title character, a devoted father who receives dreams of a great cataclysm soon to befall the world. These kaleidoscopic visions are gifted to him by the Creator (never referred to as God – indeed, the entire film is bereft of much Biblical language). As such, Noah and his family set to work building a great Ark for the innocent to survive the impending and inevitable flood.
Tubal-cain (a very angry Ray Winstone) believes it’s unfair for only the animals to be given refuge and so unites his followers to take control of the vessel before the Creator’s wrath is unleashed. It’s engaging stuff with some strong imagery and convincing effects. The cumbersome Watchers boast particularly impressive creature design and movement animation, feeling like something straight from Ray Harryhausen’s playbook. Anthony Hopkins also pops up in a small but fun role as Methuselah, Noah’s grandfather. Throw in a solid supporting cast – Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson and Logan Lerman – and you’ve got the makings of something really special.
But then the flood happens and Noah and his family become stuck aboard the Ark in an interminable melodrama that’s a completely different movie to anything that came before. Worse still, what should have been the final act is stretched to fill the entire second half of the movie (or at least it felt like that). It’s crushingly boring and completely unnecessary, and previously likeable characters self-destruct and leave you little to root for. Well before the end I was tapping away at my watch. It all becomes a bit much, and while Aronofsky’s art house approach has merit, it could have used some heavy trimming to refocus the uneven tone and tap into the epic’s true potential formerly glimpsed in its first half.