It's been anything but smooth sailing for "Noah," Darren Aronofsky's biblical epic based on the Noah's ark story from the Book of Genesis. The film has navigated an ambitious shoot, sparring with studio Paramount and criticism from religious groups about the script's deviations from Scripture.
Now the Russell Crowe-starring film has finally arrived in theaters, and many movie critics agree it's a bumpy but ultimately rewarding journey.
The Times' Kenneth Turan writes, "Grandiose, improbable, outlandish and overwrought, 'Noah' is the kind of simultaneously preposterous and dead serious movie that has become Aronofsky's specialty. As much a fantasia inspired by the Old Testament as a literal retelling of that tale, 'Noah' manages to blend the expected with the unexpected and does it with so much gusto and cinematic energy you won't want to divert your eyes from the screen."
Turan adds, "You have to respect this film's colossal nerve even if you can rarely take its situations as seriously as creator Aronofsky does."
The New York Times' A.O. Scott says, "'Noah,' 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."
He adds that the movie is "occasionally clumsy, ridiculous and unconvincing, but it is almost never dull, and very little of it has the careful, by-the-numbers quality that characterizes big-studio action-fantasy entertainment. The riskiest thing about this movie is its sincerity."
Joe Morgenstern of the Wall Street Journal agrees, writing, "This is a daring venture in mainstream entertainment, and mostly an enthralling one, despite some problematic patches. The film is revisionist, to be sure; we've never seen a Noah like the hero played so fiercely by Russell Crowe. But it's visionist as well, an action spectacular with a provocative vision — the story of Noah's ark as a vessel for lots more than animal husbandry in the face of apocalypse."
The movie "can be silly or sublime, but it's never less than fascinating," Morgenstern says. "I was on board from start to finish."
The San Francisco Chronicle's Mick LaSalle writes that "'Noah' is no silly action blockbuster with a biblical pretext. Rather, it's the product of writer-director Darren Aronofsky's vigorous engagement with the biblical story and what it might mean in our time."
In terms of acting, LaSalle says, "Crowe ably conveys the oppressive weight of Noah's responsibility, the burden of enacting God's will. But then, all the performances are strong, which is the mark of good direction." In the end, "Unlike most action movies, ['Noah' is] the furthest thing from a cynical piece of work. It's a movie to wrestle with and talk about."
Among the dissenting critics, Claudia Puig of USA Today says that although "Noah" "offers plenty of visual splendor," it's also a bit of a slog: "About halfway in, it starts to feel as though it's been going on for 40 days and 40 nights." Another element that "trips up the film" is the addition of a villain in the form of Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone), which seems "more appropriate for a superhero movie than a biblical epic."
On the whole, Puig writes, "'Noah' is a bold re-telling with plenty of spectacle, undercut by its own sprawling ambitions, fantasy elements and formulaic villain."
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