Critics Consensus

Critics Consensus: Noah is a Fresh Take on an Old Tale

Plus, Sabotage is too bloody; Cesar Chavez is too bloodless; Bad Words is vulgar fun; and The Grand Budapest Hotel is Certified Fresh

by | March 27, 2014 | Comments

This week at the movies, we’ve got an Ark builder (Noah, starring Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly); an elite DEA agent (Sabotage, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sam Worthington); a labor leader (Cesar Chavez, starring Michael Peña and John Malkovich); a full-service concierge (The Grand Budapest Hotel, starring Ralph Fiennes and Saoirse Ronan); and a grown-up spelling bee champ (Bad Words, starring Jason Bateman and Kathryn Hahn). What do the critics have to say?

Noah

76%

If you’re going to retell one of the most epic stories in human history, you’ve got to go big. That’s exactly what director Darren Aronofsky did with Noah, and critics say this ambitious adaptation of one of the Old Testament’s most familiar tales is visually majestic and powerfully acted, though the screen is so stuffed that the main narrative occasionally gets sidetracked. Russell Crowe stars as Noah, a devout man who lives in harmony with nature. When Noah has visions of an apocalyptic flood, he builds an Ark and hits the high seas, encountering some fearsome descendants of Cain along the way. The pundits say that while Noah‘s grasp can sometimes exceed its reach, it’s a robust, inventive re-imagining of a timeless legend. (Check out this week’s Total Recall, in which we run down some of cinema’s most memorable biblical epics.)

Sabotage

22%

Hollywood has turned out plenty of action films about morally ambiguous law enforcement agents, and critics say Sabotage offers little beyond an overabundance of gore to distinguish itself from the pack. After stealing a huge amount of cash during a raid, several members of a DEA unit are mysteriously murdered. It’s up to the team’s leader, John “Breacher” Wharton (Arnold Schwarzenegger), to find out who’s responsible. The pundits say the actors are fine, but Sabotage is predictably plotted and cynically violent. (Check out our video interviews with the cast and crew.)

Cesar Chavez

38%

Even the most extraordinary lives don’t follow a three-act structure, so it’s understandable that filmmakers must cut a few corners when making a biographical film. Unfortunately, critics say Cesar Chavez is an earnest but muted portrait of the influential labor leader that fails to capture its subject’s fire and complexity. The film follows Chavez (Michael Pena) during his extended campaign to secure better earnings and conditions for migrant farm workers in California. The pundits say Cesar Chavez serves as a decent introduction to the man, but mostly it dramatizes his work and achievements without bringing them to vivid life.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

92%

Wes Anderson is undoubtedly one of contemporary cinema’s most distinctive stylists, and critics say he’s got another winner with em>The Grand Budapest Hotel, a madcap, bittersweet period piece with outstanding performances from its illustrious cast. Ralph Fiennes stars as Gustave, a concierge at a swanky European hotel with an eccentric guest list. When Gustave’s rich octogenarian paramour bequeaths him an invaluable painting, he draws the ire of her outraged son; chaotic hilarity ensues. The pundits say the Certified Fresh Grand Budapest Hotel is laugh-out-loud funny, stylistically bold, and poignantly acted — in other words, what we’ve come to expect from Anderson, and more.

Bad Words

65%

Jason Bateman makes his directorial debut with Bad Words, and critics say that while this vulgar black comedy goes a little soft in the final stretch, it’s a fine showcase for the star’s sardonic, misanthropic persona. Bateman stars as Guy Trilby, a 40-something who finds a loophole that allows him to enter a national spelling bee. He proceeds to insult his juvenile competitors and appall their parents, while a reporter tries to discover what’s motivating his ruthless campaign. The pundits say Bad Words is both tasteless and slackly plotted, but it’s irreverent, well-acted, and often outrageously funny. (Check out 24 Frames for a gallery of actors with noteworthy debuts behind the camera.)

Also opening this week in limited release:

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