REVIEW: Noah (Darren Aronofsky – 2014)

Noah, Darren Aronofsky’s very unique big-budget interpretation of the Creation of the Earth and the story of Noah and his Ark, is loosely drawn from Chapters 6-9 from the Book of Genesis. This is a mammothly ambitious project and is, as expected, visually splendid with periods of brutal conflict and immense tension.
Russell Crowe as Noah
Aronofsky has layered his film with elements of fantasy, promoted concepts of theistic evolution, and in elevating this human story of good vs. evil (opponents on both on the surface of the Earth and within our very souls) to a grand scale has left his recognizable stamp on the Hollywood blockbuster.

Russell Crowe gives his best performance in years and Clint Mansell’s compositions are still echoing in my ears. Noah offers something distinct and memorable, and I was absorbed into the story immediately. Unfortunately, there are some elements – perhaps the result of tight studio pressure – that don’t work so effectively and stifle its complete success. While Noah is perhaps the most wildly inconsistent film yet from Aronofsky, showing such assurance in his bleak, affecting character-driven dramas, Requiem For A Dream, The Wrestler and Black Swan (though it has the most in common with The Fountain, his underrated masterpiece), it leaves a viewer questioning just how far they are willing to go for what they believe in. For better or worse, conventional it is not.

It takes a little patience and an open mind to get on board with what Aronofsky’s up to here. The story commences with unnerving dream sequences involving snakes, blood and bodies immersed in water. Noah (Russell Crowe) takes these visions as a message from The Creator, accepting that a great flood is going to rid the Earth of the wickedness of humanity. He and his family are pursued by a barbaric human clan led by a descendant of Cain (committing first murder in the slaying of his brother of Abel),Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone), but find themselves protected by the Watchers, fallen angels made of stone once punished by the Creator. When the premonitions are confirmed, a single seed from the Garden of Eden – given to Noah by his grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins) – promotes a stream of growth across the Earth, which lures two of every living creature toward the miracle. With the help of the Watchers, Noah and his family set about building the Ark that will prove to be their vessel into a new world.

Aronofsky is clearly interested in whether there is a presence in the heavens, the nature of humanity and embracing the privilege of being alive. Noah is all about accepting what the world offers versus taking what you want, and whether you choose to live with the side you find yourself on. Having plagued the earth and squalored their chance, are humans worthy of a future? Is a future where humans have resorted to eating each other worth surviving? But Noah discovers that he possesses wickedness himself and that he is no better than any other man. His wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) and children Ham (Logan Lerman), Sham (Douglas Booth) and Ila (Emma Watson) make choices that reveal their flaws too. This is a less a disaster epic than a portrait of one man and his obsession to fulfill the destiny assigned to him. A story of a man whose heavenly allegiance robs him of his ability to care for those he loves who survive within the same walls. When one abandons the wishes of their family, does that render them inhuman?

Visually spectacular, courtesy of Aronofksy’s long-time DP collaborator Matthew Libatique, Noah is worthy viewing on the biggest screen imaginable. In concept and scope, it is immense. There are two time-lapse sequences, conveying the journey of a river across the land – a pipeline to safety for the animals of the world to follow to the Ark – and Noah’s candle-light recount of ‘Creation’ that rivals Terrence Malick’s own in The Tree of Life, boldly blending Creationism and Evolution. The visual effects, for the most part, were extraordinary. The details present in the arrival of the animals and their confines within the Ark, gave this significant heft. The flood/siege sequence, which involves a palpitating assault by Tubal-Cain and his men on the Watcher-defended Ark amidst the downpour, was the action spectacle that unexpectedly fit like a glove.

Noah has its issues, and they come in the form of clumsy dialogue (Hopkins’ mostly), miscalculated tonal shifts, some silly developments that stretch plausibility (yes, even for a Biblical story), a thin subplot involving Noah’s middle son Ham, and some poor performances. Crowe is convincing as an environmentalist beset on modestly farming to preserve the beauty of the land, as well as a man blindly obsessed by his duty and wrestling with the guilt of what that allegiance costs him. Save for Crowe, Winstone, who is basically the most villainous version of Ray Winstone possible, and Watson (on occasion), the performances are poor. Lerman and Booth aren’t given much to do, really, but Connelly misses on her big emotional moment. It is clear that Aronofsky, while trying to helm the grand scale of his project, lost some time with his actors. Usually his casts are impeccable. Still, Crowe’s strength becomes Aronofsky’s.

Noah breaks down religious prerequisites; loosely adapting the Biblical story and feeling nothing like such a film. It is a more-than-worthy study of the flaws of humanity, even amongst the good and pure elected to survive ‘The Creator’s’ cleansing. Aronofsky fares better with the smaller projects, forced to overcome significant hurdles to get his ambitions to the screen. Nevertheless, he keeps his success-rate intact with this stirring, at times uncomfortably bizarre, fringe-dweller of a Blockbuster. Prepare to be shaken.  

and a half

Andrew Buckle - follow Andy on Twitter here: @buckle22