Like the eponymous hero of his new biblical epic "Noah," director Darren Aronofsky has proved himself a man obsessively devoted to a formidable undertaking: in Aronofsky's case, combining a scriptural story with blockbuster visuals and a provocative environmentalist undercurrent.
In early reviews of "Noah," which opens March 28 in the U.S., film critics are expressing appreciation of Aronofsky's ambition even if they find the movie itself is uneven.
Variety's Scott Foundas writes, "If Aronofsky's $130 million, 137-minute movie ultimately feels compromised at all, it's less by studio interference than by its director's own desire to make a metaphysical head movie that is also an accessible action blockbuster …. 'Noah' does not always sit easily astride those competing impulses, but it is never less than fascinating — and sometimes dazzling — in its ambitions."
Foundas also praises Russell Crowe's Noah as "superbly played" and adds that "as spectacle 'Noah' rarely disappoints."
Todd McCarthy of the Hollywood Reporter says that in "Noah," "Aronofsky wrestles one of Scripture's most primal stories to the ground and extracts something vital and audacious, while also pushing some aggressive environmentalism." For all the controversy surrounding the film's deviating from Scripture and weaving in "heavy-handed ecological doomsday messages," McCarthy says, "this is still an arresting piece of filmmaking."
McCarthy too commends Crowe, whose "splendidly grounded work here recalls some of his finest earlier performances."
For the Wrap's Alonso Duralde, "Noah" fails to reconcile its competing impulses. He writes, "Aronofsky's highly anticipated epic is neither fish nor fowl; in no way is it a straightforward Bible tale … nor is it the sort of unfettered freak-out that fans of 'Black Swan,' 'Pi' or 'The Fountain' would expect."
While the film "has its share of interesting ideas," it ultimately "winds up feeling like a bit of a soggy slog, both overblown and underwritten."
Tim Grierson of Screen Daily similarly writes that the "tension between the believable and the fantastical consistently undercuts 'Noah': The movie wants to be a love story, a family drama, a war movie and a disaster film, but the different tones and genres aren't properly integrated .… With 'Noah,' Aronofsky seems overwhelmed by the demands of executing such an ambitious undertaking, resulting in an unfocused, slightly anonymous effort."
And Indiewire's Eric Kohn says Aronofsky's "murky, ill-conceived take on the world's oldest disaster story contains some of the most pristine visuals produced on a mass studio scale in some time. But it's also constantly tethered to a dull, melodramatic series of events out of whack with any traditional interpretation of the material. By turning the monolithic odyssey into a sword-and-sandals showdown with occasionally cosmic tangents, the 137-minute studio venture contains the glimmers of a truly visionary achievement flooded by half-baked ideas."
"Nevertheless," Kohn adds, "there's a fascinating uneasiness to the movie that makes it stand out from countless blockbusters."