hmv's Anatomy of a Director: Darren Aronofsky (including a review of Noah)
In this monthly feature, we dig deep down into the back catalogue of a top director or actor and chart their rise, from their raw beginnings through to their current project. This month it's Darren Aronofsky…
Raw Beginnings: Pi
Aronofsky's 1998 debut set the tone for his career and his fascination with people who are driven to self-destruction. Telling the story of a paranoid mathematician searching for a key number that will unlock the universal patterns found in nature, the film bristles with an intense energy and whip smart dialogue, you can read our full-length feature on it here.
Big Break: Requiem For A Dream
Disturbing, brutal, uncompromising and utterly captivating, this was the film that really shot the director to public attention. Starring Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly and Ellen Burstyn, this dark portrait of four Coney Island people battling very different kinds of drug dependence is a stark look at addiction. Shot with flair, finesse and with the sweeps that Aronofsky would make his trademark, this remains a captivating, but utterly chilling watch to this day.
His Finest Hour: The Wrestler
Just edging out the terrifying Black Swan, this heart-warming story stars Mickey Rourke as Randy 'The Ram' Robinson, a faded professional wrestler who is told he must retire, but struggles to turn his back on the sport he loves.
A new step for Aronofsky, this is a down in the dirt, uncompromising tale, but with a real warmth to it, something his other films have lacked. He also coaxes wonderful performances from Mickey Rourke, Melissa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood in this essential watch.
Bump In The Road: The Fountain
This is a major bump in the road; this was the director's attempt to blend elements of fantasy, history, religion, and science fiction with the aim of capturing some universal truth. It didn't really work, not that he was helped by Warner Bros. stripping him of half the film's budget a few weeks before shooting.
Starring Rachel Weisz and Hugh Jackman, this is three stories, one each from the past, present, and future. The first tells the story of a conquistador in Mayan country searches for the tree of life to free his captive queen; a medical researcher, who is desperately working with various trees, looks for a cure that will save his dying wife and a space traveller, travelling with an aged tree encapsulated within a bubble, hoping to find the key to eternal life.
It's sprawling, it's visually impressive, it's full of plot holes and so utterly confusing that most viewers gave up. A real misfire.
The Latest Effort: Noah
The director's latest effort is his first with a truly mega budget, over $125 million in fact. Promising a radical take on the classic biblical story of Noah and the ark, the film stars Russell Crowe, as the aforementioned Noah, with Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman and Douglas Booth playing his close family, and Ray Winstone, his arch nemesis.
It's hard to place it in Aronofsky's career thus far, probably around the middle. Like all his films, it's full of ambition and has an obsession with the biggest of ideas. It's also extremely earnest, treating its subject matter with the utmost respect and offering no humour as respite, leading to mixed results.
Crowe gives heft and gravitas to the role, but it's nowhere near his best performance, as the character's devotion to his task takes away all sense of danger, something so present in his earlier roles. His supporting cast are very much that; there to prop up his very specific journey.
Full of grand themes and a drive to pose the biggest of questions, at its best, it's a visual treat, with some stunning set pieces. At its worst, it's a man having a breakdown in a field strongly resembling a festival car park. You'll have to decide which it is…