(director/writer: Darren Aronofsky; screenwriter: Ari Handel; cinematographer: Matthew Libatique; editor: Andrew Weisblum; music: Clint Mansell; cast: Russell Crowe (Noah), Jennifer Connelly (Naameh), Ray Winstone (Tubal-Cain), Emma Watson (Ila), Anthony Hopkins (Methuselah), Logan Lerman (Ham), Douglas Booth (Shem), Leo McHugh Carroll (Japheth), Frank Langella (voice of Og), Nick Nolte (voice of Samyaza); Runtime: 137; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Darren Aronofsky/ Scott Franklin/Mary Parent/Arnon Milchan; Paramount; 2014)

“Gives us a slightly different Noah from the one in the Bible to pore over, which might bother some viewers more than others.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Director Darren Aronofsky (“Pi”/”The Fountain”/”Requiem for a Dream“) co-writes with Ari Handel, Aronofsky’s Harvard roomie, this uneven, awkwardly executed, controversial biblical epic disaster flick. It revisits the flood in The Book of Genesis story and re-introduces to us the popular Sunday school story with a bunch of new characters and situations. The often hokey visionary Aronofsky, whose bouts with mysticism can be quite a loopy trip, creates a conflicted Noah (Russell Crowe) who sternly acts upon his dreams and after conferring with the unseen Maker to save the innocent animals and his family decides to build an Ark to ride out the flood that a vengeful God invoked to destroy the vile descendents of Cain.

The Brooklyn-born, 45-year-old secular Jewish filmmaker, brings in digitally created sci-fi creatures (guardian angels called the Watchers, who seem like leftovers from the Transformers set), clumsily shot action pic fight scenes and overwrought family feuds in his biblical take about how an authoritarian and ecological-orientated vegan like Noah, someone who thrives on being the ‘chosen one’ to fulfill heaven’s will of only saving the innocent from an Apocalypse. The pic tries to keep the spirit of the O.T. story, as it goes on telling how the Maker wanted to correct the botched creation with a possible do over creation after the flood. The risky film, much to be admired for taking chances few mainstream blockbuster’s do, veers off-course from the biblical tale at times and gives us a slightly different Noah from the one in the Bible to pore over. This might bother some viewers more than others. How credible Aronson’s version of Noah is, is the question that I think will determine if you like the movie or not.

The ambitious film, meant to be taken serious but walking on the edge of being risible, is elegantly filmed. Despite its revisionist touches and contentious contemporary takes on its fighting mad shipbuilder hero, it still looks like a throwback to those spectacular Hollywood biblical epics of the past–popcorn flicks which bring back a nostalgia for the big studio films. But, it at the same time, left me unimpressed with its clunky dialogue, shallow New Age religious leanings and lack of a believable drama.

After its prologue sets up the story by reviewing the original sin in the Garden of Eden, it tells us how messed up the world became after Cain killed his brother Abel and only the lineage descended from their other brother Seth obeyed the Lord. We learn Noah was from Seth’s lineage, which was on the run from the bestial Cain descendents, and in ritual Noah wraps a snakeskin around his arm, as his eccentric oracular aged father Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins) did, as a reminder that everything on Earth is owed to the Creator of Adam and Eve.

The story picks up with the 500-year-old protective Noah, living in fear of being hunted down by the tribal warfare of the Cain rabble in the desolate desert of Canaan, trekking to the top of a mountain to reunite with the hiding Methuselah. The humble, God-fearing Noah dwells with his loyal wifeNaameh (Jennifer Connelly) and their dutiful sons, Shem (Douglas Booth ), Ham (Logan Lerman) and Japheth (Leo McHugh Carroll). Also becoming part of their family is the orphan Ila (Emma Watson), someone they rescue who becomes romantically linked to Shem. The problem is that she’s barren, that is until the mystical Methuselah lays a magical hand on her and soon after a heated romp in the hay with Shem results in her pregnancy. That presents another problem as Noah becomes unlikable as the crazed dogmatic messenger of the Lord, whom he believes is telling him to slay the twins that Ila gave birth to.

The magnificent looking Ark, the real star of the pic, gets built (following the exact specs laid down in the Bible–it was built on a 5-acre grassy field in a state park in Oyster Bay, Long Island) by Noah’s family, with the help of the giant cinder-eyed monster Watchers, after our man Noah envisions an apocalyptic flood in the near future. When the rains come Noah decides to flee on the Ark with his family and the animals, leaving behind the rest of the rabble population.

Hopping on the Ark uninvited is the film’s villain, the Canaanite King, Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone), who is set on killing his arch rival Noah.

Crowe’s great presence as Noah grounds the film, and makes it watchable in a video game way despite its underwhelming script. The Aussie ably plays the humble servant of the Lord who later becomes a dangerous zealot, who loses sight of what it’s like to be human and in the end only comes to his senses when all his loved-ones fear him and begin to move away from him.

The pic has some graceful scenes, and some scenes that left me more impressed with the technical achievements than the storytelling and its heavy-handed humanitarian messages. I realize how difficult Bible pictures are to make and how so few of them cut the grade and wanted to cut this pic as much slack as possible, but I found it too shallow, ponderous, overlong and too unrewarding an interpretation of Noah to move me.

Jennifer Connelly, Russell Crowe, Logan Lerman, and Emma Watson in Noah (2014)