It is fitting that many of the struggles surrounding Noah, a big-budget studio epic that retells the story of Biblical hero Noah and his giant ark, is based around men with power. This story of course deals with how power has basically corrupted man and Noah is tasked with assisting in helping the world start anew and while I would not suggest that needs to happen again (I am not too fond of endless floods), the fact that one of the men with the power over this film is acclaimed filmmaker Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan, The Wrestler) makes things very interesting. The curiosity of those on the outside will either be how “religious” this film ends up seeming or whether or not it has more up its sleeve than being a slick update of a production fit for Cecil B. DeMille. One thing is certain: Noah is both unlike anything Aronofsky has attempted before and exactly the kind of film he would make, based on this story.
Naameh: What did He say?
Noah: He’s going to destroy the Earth.
There are a number of ways to portray this kind of story and plenty of ways to discuss it as well. From what I saw, it makes the most sense to describe Noah as an apocalyptic disaster film. It features Russell Crowe as Noah, a man with a devotion to his Creator. The world he lives on looks practically alien in its presentation, as it is less a familiar earth and more of a wasteland that one could easily see Mad Max racing through at some point. While not utilizing effects that could make the film seem timeless, which is what writer/director Darren Aronofsky attempted for his 2006 film, The Fountain, he has the studio budget to create an alluring world here, with a highlight coming in the form of a re-telling of the story of Genesis early in the film.
I could say you know where things go from here, but Noah may or may not be a story everyone is incredibly familiar with, beyond the basic beats. Yes, Noah is tasked with building an ark. Yes, he will have to have room for two of every creature. Yes, there will be a large flood. It is the weight of this task that is explored by Aronofsky and co-writer Ari Handel, as Noah is given the reason, the means, and the power to do what he has to, but the burden that comes with this grand task makes for a film with a lot of interesting avenues to explore.
On the surface, Noah has some concepts that I found to be awesome. How does one man build a giant wooden ark, serviceable enough to contain every animal and survive a huge flood? He is given help from beings known as “Watchers”. The Watchers are huge stone creatures that were once angels. Here is a way to say that the film is definitely rooted in the fantastical. While the posters want to suggest a dark and gritty Noah movie (which the film technically is), it is not one that is rooted in reality. The visual effects may not be flawless when it comes to showing us two of every creature, but the Watches are the kind of out-there visual that provides Noah with its own identity, breaking it away from the traditional biblical epic.
Along with Crowe, the film has a strong supporting cast as well. Jennifer Connelly is Naameh, Noah’s wife. Douglas Booth, Leo McHugh Carroll, and Logan Lerman are Shem, Japheth, and Ham, Noah’s sons. Anthony Hopkins is Methuselah, Noah’s grandfather. Ray Winstone is Tubal-cain, a king of the world Noah inhabits. Emma Watson is Ila, an orphan that Noah brings into his family. The film would have little drama to make this story more interesting, beyond the visual splendor, if were not for what these various characters had to offer.
Shem and Ham put Noah in tough places for different reasons. With Ham, Noah must contend with a son who he is cutting off from the rest of the world for the sake of a cause that will take away his chance to find someone like Shem has with Ila. Ila has a different struggle based around what she is capable of and how that will make a difference, as far as the human race is concerned, which are the kind of stakes that few would ever have to grapple with. The two young actors are great, given what is required of them, with Connelly stepping in with a confident performance as well, especially in the later parts of the film. Still, it is nice to have an old pro like Anthony Hopkins, who provides some much needed warmth to a film that is bent on showing you a pretty bleak apocalypse.
This is the kind of thing that makes Ray Winstone’s character interesting, given what he is fighting for. Movie logic suggests that a film like this needs some sort of human threat to keep things interesting and that is what Winstone provides, yet the film does have Noah essentially serving as an anti-hero. Here is a man that is fighting to keep humans away from his ark, knowing that the world is going to end and the vast majority of mankind with it. Winstone may be deemed a part of the corrupt, but he is fighting for the survival of the human race. While not a deeply textured character, Winstone provides what he needs to for this kind of role, but Crowe not only shines in his brief encounters with Tubal-cain, but throughout the entire film as well.
Russell Crowe is a fine actor, but it has been a while since I have really seen him deliver anything as powerful as he has with the character of Noah. This is a man who is dedicated to his cause and will go to any length to please his Creator. Crowe somehow internalizes this idea and puts it on display for this film. Regardless of the different looks he is given throughout, the choices he makes in his accent, and whatever other decisions that highlight his character in the foreign world on display, Crowe is on point throughout this film and goes the extra mile, once Aronofsky allows Noah to dig deeper into territory very familiar for him.
If the film has any problem, it revolves around how much it wants to accomplish in the latter segments of the film, once the ark is at sea. The benefit is getting to watch another Aronofsky film where a character is driven to near madness, as we see Noah go to certain lengths in order to stay unwavering with what he thinks his Creator requires of him. At the same time, the film is stuffed with a lot of elements at this point, which make the film feel overcrowded with ideas that could have either been eliminated or better suited for a longer version. I have a feeling this is where a lot of the troubles came for Aronofsky, as it came time to finding just the right edit, as far as making Noah work for all audiences goes, but it does not take away from what I saw in the film.
Troubles aside, Noah is a film with great scope and ambition that is largely a success for Darren Aronofsky, as far as seeing a critically acclaimed arthouse filmmaker given the chance to explore a bigger canvass goes. He is aided by some truly creative visuals, a fantastic performance from Russell Crowe, and another great score from Clint Mansell, which really helps bring the film together. Coming at the cost of stumbling a bit at the finish line, Noah is still a riveting epic, with an interesting handle on the classic flood myth.
Methuselah: He speaks to you. You must trust that He speaks in a way that you can understand.