‘Noah’ Reviews: Is Darren Aronofsky’s Biblical Vision Divine or Dumb?

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Russell Crowe stars as the man behind that ark

“Noah,” Darren Aronofsky‘s reimagining of that Old Testament chestnut about the great flood, is being alternately hailed as a bold and visually arresting epic and dinged as preposterous.

The Paramount release has been dogged by reports of clashes between the “Black Swan” director and his studio overlords, but whatever issues may have transpired apparently didn’t hurt the film in the eyes of many critics. “Noah,” which stars Russell Crowe as the great ark builder and Jennifer Connelly as Mrs. Noah, scored a 78 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

TheWrap’s Alonso Duralde believed the film ran aground, however. It’s ambitious, but undercooked, he griped. It also suffers from being overly devout and its reticence to stray from Genesis hurts the drama.

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“‘Noah’ has snakes and bears and herbalist anesthesia and rock-angels and rampaging armies and panicky sinners, so why is it such a drag?” Duralde wrote. “Clearly Aronofsky isn’t out to make yet another stodgy Bible movie, but it often feels as though he’s reining in his showier artistic impulses lest he offend the faithful.”

While Duralde found the film to be a slog to sit through, the New York Times’ A.O. Scott was galvanized by Aronofsky’s biblical portrait, although he did allude to a few narrative hiccups.

“The riskiest thing about this movie is its sincerity: Mr. Aronofsky, while not exactly pious, takes the narrative and its implications seriously,” Scott wrote. “He tries not only to explore what the story of the flood might mean in the present age of environmental anxiety and apocalyptic religion, but also, more radically, to imagine what it might have felt like to live in a newly created, already-ruined world, and to scan the skies for clues about what its creator might be thinking.”

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It’s visionary, but slightly preposterous, Kenneth Turan argued. However, the Los Angeles Times sage seemed willing to endure the bombast given that it gave Aronofsky license to work on a larger scale than ever before.

“As ‘Noah’s’ hectic plot wends its biblical way, you have to respect this film’s colossal nerve even if you can rarely take its situations as seriously as creator Aronofsky does,” Turan wrote. “With its determination to tell this traditional story in its own way, it begins to oddly echo the very different but equally individualistic Old Testament epics put out by the old master himself, Cecil B. DeMille. The creator really does work in mysterious ways.”

Credit for the film’s success should go to Crowe’s performance as a tortured prophet, claims the Associated Press’ Jocelyn Noveck.

“Noah’s near-descent into madness would not be nearly as effective had Crowe not already convinced us of his essential decency,” Noveck wrote. “At the same time, the actor is believable when pondering the most heinous crime imaginable. It’s one of Crowe’s more effective performances.”

Also read: ‘Noah’ Scores Solid $1.6 Million at Thursday Box Office

Like Noah’s quest to rescue the world’s animals, Aronofsky’s film is the work of a mad genius, wrote the Boston Globe’s Ty Burr. That kind of artistic lunacy has benefits and demerits.

“Most religious movies feel as if they’re made by a church committee, but every now and then a wild-eyed prophet wanders in and rattles the theater with brimstone,” Burr wrote. “Regardless of your feelings about either movie, Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion of the Christ’ qualifies and so does Martin Scorsese‘s ‘The Last Temptation of Christ.’ Now director Darren Aronofsky (‘Black Swan,’ ‘The Wrestler’) has ascended to the mountaintop and returned with the strangest, most visionary cinematic parable yet.”

Not everyone felt the pull of Aronofsky’s biblical epic. Stephanie Zacharek of the Village Voice likened it to a drab blockbuster spectacle.

“Aronofsky doesn’t want to instill wonder; he’s more interested in drab yet expensive-looking wrath,” she wrote. “He’s made a movie about judgment that itself feels judgmental.”

Love it or hate it, “Noah” at least has succeeded in inspiring debate.