Published on April 18th, 2014 | by Allan Brown3
Movie Review: NOAH
Running Time: 138 mins
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Writers: Darren Aronofsky, Ari Handel
Cast: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Hopkins, Ray Winstone, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, Douglas Booth
It could be argued that in recent years Hollywood mainstream has become a generic roundabout of indistinguishable popcorn fodder, where differentiating one blockbuster from another is at times like trying to tell Delbert Grady’s daughters apart. So it was indeed a welcomed surprise when the Oscar nominated indie director of Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler and Black Swan announced he would be tackling the biblical epic, NOAH as his next project. From the word go, my attentions were well and truly grasped.
That film-maker was of course Darren Aronofsky. A controversial director known for taking chances, pushing the envelope character perceptions and indeed, challenging the norm. The characters he chooses to examine, be it ‘Randy the Ram’ in ‘The Wrestler‘ or ‘Nina Sayers’ in ‘Black Swan‘ are often damaged and tortured souls who would normally feel uninviting as lead protagonists. However, the way Aronofsky intimately captures them on-screen in sincere and extremely personal portrayals, humanise them, helping us as an audience connect and empathise in understanding their complexities. This time under the microscope is on Noah.
But do Darren Aronofsky’s gallant efforts to merge the Hollywood blockbuster with the Bible, or an earnest character study with an epic drama actually work, and more importantly does it offer us anything new?
At the Scottish Premiere of Noah, I was about to find out.
In case you’ve been living in a cave system somewhere in the tropics your whole life, or you just skipped your youth entirely, here is a brief synopsis of what is surely one of the most well known stories of all time.
The story of Noah begins approx ten generations after Adam and Eve’s exile from the Garden of Eden. The earth now a grey and barren landscape, a formidable place where little to anything grows. Indeed paradise has long passed, a stark contrast to the lush bounty that once was. In its place, sin has taken over mankind and ‘The Creator‘ is not happy about it.
Cue Noah. Our lead is a humble, respectable and selflessly devoted family man who lives only by the code of God. However, one night he awakens, troubled by visions of an apocalyptic flood. Noah prophecies that these vision are an instruction from God to protect the innocent (the animals) from the wrath that will soon engulf the earth.With the help of his wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) his children; Ham (Logan Lerman), Shem (Douglas Booth) Japheth (Leo McHugh Carroll) and several fallen angels known as the watchers he sets about building an immense wooden vessel, the ark. However, the enormity of the task at hand inadvertently attracts the attention of frequent sinner and all round troublemaker, Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone) who has his own agenda. And so, all that creeps, all that crawls and all that slithers make their way to Noah’s Ark, as ‘the creator’ prepares to cleanse the world of sin.
When the world of religion and movies meet, the inevitability of controversy dually follows. Despite which stand you may take on the matter I must address that my analysis will be as impartial as possible, and my conclusion – solely on the merit of the film.
When the world of religion and movies meet, the inevitability of controversy dually follows
Upon researching the story of Noah, I thought it was only right to read the text for myself. Indeed every man and his dog knows the basic premise, but what exactly does the Book of Genesis actually account in the story of Noah?
Chapter 6 which this film is adapted from is admittedly sparse on details in its few page eternity and therefore some imagination and interpretation must be exercised to fill in the colossal voids left in the narrative. With that said, Aronofsky and his co-writer Ari Handel have done their homework here, tirelessly consulting the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Book of Enoch, the Book of Jubilee and of course the Book of Genesis, to stay as faithful to the text as dramatically and thematically possible.
So does Aronofsky’s vision work on-screen?
In part both yes and no. The strengths of the film lie with its cast who do well do breathe life into the often ridged biblical text. Jennifer Connelly who was last seen with Russell Crowe in ‘A Beautiful Mind’ again proves her acting prowess as Naameh, the devoted wife of Noah. Her portrayal is both powerful and heartfelt as she negotiates the dilemma at hand; the duty to her husband and his responsibility to God (that she must blindly accept) and her love for her children.
Emma Watson, Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, Douglas Booth and Logan Lerman all do well in their respective roles, but it is Russell Crowe who anchors the film with another powerful leading man performance. It is he that continually grounds the film, just as it threatens to escalate into the more absurd.
It is he that continually grounds the film, just as it threatens to escalate into the more absurd.
The moral dilemmas that Noah battles to justify his actions as well as the raging conflict between his head and his heart are the most fascinating and thought provoking elements in the film and Crowe elevates these complexities by delivering another steadfast performance.
Aronofsky has insisted from day one that his intentions with Noah were to make nothing more than blockbuster entertainment, and in part that is exactly what he has done. However it is his refusal commit to any one genre or tone that is ultimately the films undoing. The more serious compelling drama jarringly shifts to battlefield wide-shots were poorly rendered CGI giants (The Watchers) war against the rest of humanity in a series of scenes that look like they have been pulled from The Lord of the Rings archives. These moments coupled with characters like Anthony Hopkins – Methuselah (Noah’s grandfather), whose magical witch doctor episodes feel just as out of place and confused in the overall landscape of the film.
Despite Aronosfkys trademark character explorations, the larger more epic picture the film awkwardly reaches for (but never quite grasps) ends up a confused 138 min visual effects show, never quite knowing if it’s a an Epic, a Fantasy Adventure, a Thriller, a Character Drama or an Adaptation. The result is a mixed bag of tones, themes and visuals that never gel together coherently.
When all is said and done, Noah is as thrilling, moving and thought provoking as it is tedious and ridiculous.
Summary: A mixed-bag that never quite knows where it belongs or what it’s aiming for. Not a complete failure, nor a roaring success.