Darren Aronofsky has never been afraid of ridicule or of pursuing creative avenues that would scare off lesser directors. Think of the maddeningly over-reaching yet dazzlingly thought-provoking metaphysical treaty that is The Fountain, or of the overwrought giallo slasher that is Black Swan. Noah, his treatment of the biblical tale of the Flood, notches another ambitious, thoughtful take on risky material for Mr. Aronofsky, but this time it's clear that the director has bitten off a lot more than he can chew.

     Ponderous, bloated, over-stretched as much as it's intriguing, demanding and provocative, Noah engages with the substance of the religious message of Christ if not with the exact form in which it has been passed on, upending Hollywood's big-budget biblical epics into a dangerously personal, almost chamber-like claustrophobic blockbuster. It could be "the Flood for the Walking Dead generation", such is the dark, apocalyptic, survivalist tone Mr. Aronofsky and his co-screenwriter Ari Handel write into the tale; madness and visionarism co-exist in this world stripped raw of its nature, taken to the brink of extinction and cleansed by the deity's divine wrath. Russell Crowe's intense Noah is a haunted figure who is as much fundamentalist zealot as broken human being; the last of its line of respectful stewards of the Earth, he is pushed to a breaking point that would leave most men insane, taken to the extreme of wishing to leave no trace of his passage through life for the sake of the planet's survival.

     Yet, the director's traditional edginess is restricted to the conceptualization of the characters, dulled by a visual treatment of somewhat dim drabness (all dull browns and dark tones that need a really state-of-the-art projection to come off - it wasn't the case in the screening attended) and a portentous, elephantine sluggishness that pushes the film over the two-hour mark with little to no benefit to its story-telling. Though the film's theme is hardly lightweight, Mr. Aronofsky's desire to have his cake and eat it too means the bleak, adult, demanding nature of the script and the requirement to deliver a commercial, blockbuster picture either co-exist awkwardly or cancel each other out, resulting in a strangely unaffecting though intermittently powerful re-imagining that engages the mind rather than the eye. The director has thankfully never been afraid of believing in himself to the limit, but here he may be like Noah himself - too lost in his mission to be fully aware of all the mistakes he's making. Had it succeeded, it would have been yet another jewel in Mr. Aronofsky's crown; such as it is, it's an intriguing but obvious failure.

USA 2014
138 minutes
Cast: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ray Winstone, Emma Watson, Anthony Hopkins, Logan Lerman, Douglas Booth, Marton Csokas, Mark Margolis, Kevin Durand
Director Darren Aronofsky; screenwriters Mr. Aronofsky and Ari Handel; cinematographer Matthew Libatique (colour); composer Clint Mansell; designer Mark Friedberg; costumes Michael Wilkinson; editor Andrew Weisblum; effects supervisor Ben Snow; producers Scott Franklin, Mr. Aronofsky, Mary Parent and Arnon Milchan, Paramount Pictures, Regency Enterprises and Protozoa Pictures
Screened April 8th 2014 (distributor advance press screening, Zon Lusomundo Alvaláxia 1, Lisbon)


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