Dir: Darren Aronofsky
Cast: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ray Winstone, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, Douglas Booth, and Anthony Hopkins
Synopsis: A man is chosen by God to undertake a momentous mission of rescue before an apocalyptic flood destroys the world.
*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review of this interruption of the biblical tale.*
Whatever your faith or how much you believe or don’t believe in the story itself, the tale of Noah is inherently a tough one – this is a story involving just about all of humanity wiped out, all at once. And this film doesn’t shy away from that at all, both in the grand scale of those killed by the floods and also in smaller, more intimate and, arguably, more disturbing ways. There is one scene in particular where Noah makes a choice that is frankly shocking to see. Director Darren Aronofsky and Russell Crowe walk a delicate line here with audience sympathy, yet manage to convey that this is a man doing what he truly believes must be done, no matter how difficult it is to comprehend at face value. According to Aronofsky, and something I come to see as well, Noah is person that suffers from the ultimate survivor’s guilt. This movie touches on that but also asks another question, what happens when you give a man an extremely life changing mission?
The opening (including some text onscreen that, essentially, gives you the grand scale of things with some cool Aronosfky visuals) establishes that God, here called “The Creator”, is certainly believed in by everyone, but also has gone so long that it’s assumed he long abandoned or moved on from the people he put on the Earth. The exception to this, of course, is Noah (Crowe) who begins to have visions sent to him by the Creator, warning that thanks to humanity’s misdeeds, the end is coming, in the form of a great flood.
With the aid of his grandfather, Methuselah (Hopkins, although he is only referred to as Grandfather by everyone in Noah’s family and Noah himself), Noah realizes he is meant to build a massive Ark, which will hold animals and Noah’s own family, all of whom will be the key to re-starting society all over again. Although Noah takes pride in his task at the outset, he starts to doubt if anyone, including his family, is worthy of being saved
Noah is assisted by his family from the start, including his wife, Naameh (Connelly) and his sons, the oldest Shem (Booth), the middle child Ham (Lerman) and the youngest Japheth (McHugh Carroll). And then there’s Ila (Watson), who they saved as a little girl and raise among their family – where she and Shem are romantically involved.
This version of Noah is obviously a different interpretation told than before. Besides Noah’s family, Noah is helped by others in the form of the Watchers, angels that are envisioned as giant rock creatures trapped in their current form as a punishment by the Creator. The Watchers have an angelic light inside them that makes their eyes and mouth glow, making them feel like something out of Lord of the Rings. The design is interesting as they’re so massive they kind of just lunge around but when its time to take action and protect the Ark, they become one of the highlights of the film, even though we never really get to know their names expect for Og (voiced by Frank Langella) and Samyaza (voiced by Nick Nolte).
The cast for the most part really works. Crowe can convey toughness and determination and is, for this interpretation, the right guy to play someone as focused as Noah is, who will not let anything get in his way. He also gets to show some other pretty intense emotions as the film continues and Noah begins to believe that perhaps the Creator’s intentions are even more difficult than it seemed, on a personal level. He’s also a bit of a badass. We see Noah early on defend himself from three attackers and when the Ark is under attack from Tubal-cain (the always reliable Ray Winestone) and his army, he does what he has to do to complete his mission.
As for the other men in the film, Lerman who plays Ham is the most conflicted amongst Noah’s sons, and has some understandable concerns and jealousies. Ham’s conflict brings him into the growing struggle between Noah and Tubal-cain, a villain who also has a unique position in the film. He does do awful things but he says things in such away you almost feel wrong agreeing with him. Douglas Booth’s Shem, the oldest son, isn’t given a lot to do but protect Watson’s Ila. Finally, Anthony Hopkins for the short amount of screen time he has does his usual best
But beside Crowe and Winstone, the women really do take center stage here. More specifically Emma Watson as Ila. Thanks to being attacked as a child she is unable to have children – something that is a concern to her given that she is the future of mankind. Watson holds her own with Crowe and have some great chemistry together, especially near the end. But, Watson is excellent at conveying Ila feelings as she looks at her place in this family. Jennifer Connelly’s Naameh, doesn’t have much to do at first, but Connelly stands out in one particular scene near the end as Naameh stands up to Noah; for the first time believing her husband, who she has supported for so long, is the wrong about a decision he’s making.
Not shockingly, Aronofsky’s visuals are gorgeous, highlighted by a sequence in which we see the Creation Story play out in a dynamic, thrilling manner, that expertly mixes time-lapse photography with special effects.
There are some iffy CGI at points (mostly with the animals but considering the scale of this project it’s kind of okay) and, despite its huge scale, Noah does have some moments where it hits some bumps. As I mentioned earlier, the promotional material surprisingly hasn’t given away much. We actually see and spend a good chuck of time in the Ark. Here is where the movie slows down a bit, but with great acting scenes and the dilemmas the characters, mostly Noah, have to make it adds some tense and emotional sequences that make the time in the Ark worth while.
All in all, Noah will, obviously, play very differently depending on how you interpret the Bible or even care about religion. Some will probably find it boring or uninteresting, which is fine, but given the bold approach that Aronofsky takes I hope people appreciate the movie just for what it is (I know, that’s asking a lot).
4 out of 5