*** out of ****
Writer/director Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan, Requiem for a Dream) initially might seem like an odd choice to direct a big-budget Biblical epic, but Noah is worth a look.
Russell Crowe brings his trademark intensity to the role of Noah, who begins having visions that God will destroy the world via flood. The basic story is well known even to non-religious people, but Aronofsky takes it to interesting places. He makes the squalid, overcrowded towns seem genuinely terrifying. It's creepy enough to make a convincing argument that man is a destructive force the planet might be better off without (there's a strong undercurrent of environmentalism running throughout the film).
Aronofsky does not shy away from the horror of the flood, either. It gets glossed over in most retellings of the story, but nearly every person in the world died a painful, horrible death in it. Noah admirably doesn't sugarcoat that.
The flood is not the climax of the film. There's about an hour left after the deluge, and from there the film turns into a strange mixture of The Searchers (Noah feels God has commanded him to ensure the extinction of the human race, even if it means killing his soon-to-be-born grandchildren) and The Mosquito Coast (a fanatical, driven man alienates his entire family on a long boat journey).
Not all of the film's elements cohere as a whole. The final hour clashes with the big budget spectacle of the middle third, which features giant CGI angels, who resemble rock monsters, fending off marauders led by Ray Winstone's evil chieftain (the script allows Winstone's villain to make some salient points questioning God's will).
There's a lot going on here and the film does feel overstuffed, but it's never boring (and at 139 minutes, that's an achievement). It's well-acted (Emma Watson and Jennifer Connelly do strong work in supporting roles) and unafraid to take risks with a familiar story. Ultimately, Noah's ambition and fearlessness are enough to forgive its messiness.