By TOH! | Thompson on Hollywood March 27, 2014 at 5:37PM
"Noah," Darren Aronofsky's costly, epic deluge of gritty visual splendor and waterlogged actors, is like no Bible you've ever read. After the film floods theaters Friday, it's up to audiences to decide if all the efforts of this once-indie filmmaker were worth the trouble. Critics enjoy the film overall, as they do Gareth Evans' violent action sequel "The Raid 2" and Drake Doremus' understated "Breathe In."
Though critical consensus is still up in the air for Michael Pena as "Cesar Chavez," a biopic we liked at SXSW, and Tom Berninger's documentary on indie band The National, "Mistaken for Strangers," these are all solid indie alternatives for those looking to dry off after "Noah."
The best of the bunch is "Cesar Chavez," from director Diego Luna and starring Pena, Rosario Dawson and John Malkovich. As a look at the titular late great activist and founder of the United Farm Workers, the film moves at a good clip and does not get bogged down in the usual cradle-to-grave details of such earnestly hagiographic enterprises as "Mandela: The Long Walk Home."
In Drake Doremus' "Breathe In," which debuted at Sundance 2013, Felicity Jones -- who Doremus directed previously in 2011 Sundance fave "Like Crazy" -- plays British exchange student Sophie, who comes to stay for a semester with married couple Keith and Megan (Pearce and Amy Ryan), and their teen daughter Lauren (Mackenzie Davis), who's in the same grade as Sophie. Doremus has an improv-heavy directorial style that lends itself to small, intimate moments. But the larger plot events and character arcs don’t hold up between these moments, unfolding in a clunky, even cringe-inducing way.
Noah Dir. Darren Aronofsky, USA | Paramount Pictures | Cast: Russell Crowe, Emma Watson, Jennifer Connelly, Ray Winstone, Logan Lerman, Anthony Hopkins | 80% Fresh | THR: "Darren Aronofsky wrestles one of scripture's most primal stories to the ground and extracts something vital and audacious, while also pushing some aggressive environmentalism, in 'Noah'." | Our review
Cesar Chavez Dir. Diego Luna, Mexico, USA | Lionsgate Films | Cast: Michael Pena, Rosario Dawson, John Malkovich, America Ferrera, Wes Bentley | 44% Fresh | Paste: "Director Diego Luna's muted drama so consciously avoids theatrics that it never really comes to life." | Our SXSW exclusive video interview
The Raid 2 Dir. Gareth Evans, Indonesia | Sony Pictures Classics | Cast: Iko Uwais, Yahan Ruhian, Arifin Putra, Oka Antara, Tio Pakusadewo, Alex Abbad | 76% Fresh | LA Weekly: "Though the flick's best scenes are pared-down bouts, Evans wrestles with (and loses to) his impulse that bigger is better, that 35 corpses are more effective than one."
Breathe In Dir. Drake Doremus, USA | Cohen Media Group | Cast: Guy Pearce, Felicity Jones, Amy Ryan, Kyle MacLachlan, Mackenzie Davis | 65% Fresh | Time Out: "What swings it are irresistible performances from Felicity Jones and Guy Pearce." | Our review
Mistaken for Strangers Dir. Tom Berninger, USA | Abramorama Entertainment | 83% Fresh | Slant: "Adds up little more than an anguished man using the hook of following his famous brother in order to gaze, however critically, at his reflection for 75 minutes."