Noah is getting the strangest good reviews. "I’m not sure who exactly this often grimly rapturous movie was made for, but I find myself surprisingly glad that it was made," wrote Richard Lawson in Vanity Fair. A.O. Scott went with: "Mr. Aronofsky’s earnest, uneven, intermittently powerful film, is both a psychological case study and a parable of hubris and humility. At its best, it shares some its namesake’s ferocious conviction, and not a little of his madness."
These are all incredibly charitable. This is not a good movie. I wanted to bite off my fingers. From the opening sequence, which explains the silly state of the world and some fallen angels by means of text that looks suspiciously like the unholy Papyrus font, to the senseless howling and weeping and gnashing of teeth and stomping around that proceeds over the next two hours, Noah looks all around like a film gone seriously wrong. In terms of emotional pitch, it makes Black Swan look like Breakfast at Tiffany's. It's tiresome, exhausting, bizarre and self-serious. Aronofsky is pretty close to being a great director who's never actually made a great film.
In anyone else's hands, the story of grim old stick-in-the-mud Russell Crowe saving the beasts of the world from the evils of men would be extremely camp. And there are times that the movie looks like claymation or the performances turn just a bit too histrionic. But there's never anything laughable, really—ever—in even Aronofsky's most ridiculous situations. That's what makes Noah so tiring. And yet… visually captivating? I guess the upside is, it's refreshing to see a movie where you literally cannot imagine what will happen, even though you assume there's going to be, like, a big flood, and an eventual yacht collision with Mount Ararat.
I always start to suspect that it all goes wrong with his collaborators. Noah has the wonderful Clint Mansell's worst score to date (and I say this as a huge, huge Mansell fan), and Aronofsky's stuck by his production designer and editor from Black Swan and his costume designer back to The Wrestler. But that's not it: they all do great work over and over. Thérèse DePrez also did the impeccable production designs for Stoker and I Shot Andy Warhol and Happiness, and Amy Westcott did costumes for The Squid and the Whale and "Entourage" and the delightful What's Your Number? (She has the craziest job of all here: "pretend there was actually a first iron age before the one we know about and also there were magical animals and angels and stuff and they'd discovered indigo dye and invented really sophisticated looms but nothing else." You end up with a kind of Bottega Veneta as reimagined by al Qaeda members.) Likewise Noah's editor did Moonrise Kingdom, The East and Fantastic Mr. Fox. So everything wrong with this movie is Aronofsky's fault.
From the east coast, this looks like the insanely expensive end of Darren Aronofsky, with the production budget plus the marketing budget teetering quickly towards $200 million. But the studio, after some early wrestling for control of the film, gave it up and gave in, and are now 100% on-board. Probably their testing shows something we can't see for the vast multiplexes of America. A Dances with Wolves for the last of the Billy Graham set? God, it could be just the beginning.