by Ken B.
Noah is an art house-esque approach to a biblical story released in three thousand theatres. The manner of the execution is not unexpected, considering the reception of the director and co-writer, Darren Aronofsky, but still much has been made about this blockbuster’s eccentric style. The numerous accusations of deliberate religious sabotage have been overblown, initiated by fundamentalists who don’t know what the phrase “creative liberty” means – Noah remains true to its roots over the story depicted in Genesis in both a basic outline of events and message. However, it is admittedly undeniable that multiple liberties have been taken, particularly in what can only be called Ray Harryhausen-style rock monsters (more on that later).
After a couple of title cards in a cheesy font discuss the historical story of the universe, we are exposed to a brief flashback where a young Noah sees his father murdered by Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone), who is, obviously, a descendent of Cain (of Cain and Abel). Years later, Noah is married to Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), and they have three sons: Shem (Douglas Booth), Ham (Logan Lerman), and Japheth (Leo McHugh Carroll). Shem is married to Ila (Emma Watson), who was informally adopted when she was a girl, found injured in the wreckage of a village. An injury she suffered at that time would also reckon her infertile.
Lately, Noah has been having some surreal dreams. The world is destroyed – not by fire, but by water, he says to his grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins). He’s convinced that it’s some kind of sign, and that humanity, which, under Tubal-cain, has devolved to a brutal, murdering, animalistic incoherency, will indeed be wrecked. Noah has decided to construct an ark to hold his family and the animals of the world. To help build it, he will enlist Watchers, angels fallen from the heavens, becoming encased in rock after crashing into lava. Indeed, the flood comes, and everything is flooded. Noah believes that he and his family are to be the last humans, and it must stay that way, no matter what the cost.
Regardless of what has been said about Noah in the past couple weeks, one word that hasn’t been uttered is unambitious. It doesn’t matter if you like the film or not, the grand scale of the production and its unique way of existing is obvious and striking. This is enhanced by the visual effects (both in water and animals, all of which were computer generated, brilliant looking in scenes where they fly, walk, or slither to the ark). The cinematography and editing are kinetic, and the score from regular Aronofsky contributer Clint Mansell is expectedly loud, pounding through scenes when it has to.
The acting is great all down the board – Russell Crowe is stoic, displaying a Noah that becomes increasingly acute religiously and obtuse humanely. Another major performance here comes from Emma Watson. In The Perks of Being a Wallflower (which also starred Lerman), Watson showed that she, like her other two Harry Potter costars, won’t let that franchise be a sole career definition. This transition will be sped up and helped significantly by the fact that she is a very good actress, and that is clearly shown here. In her later scenes with Crowe, facing a devastating ultimatum regarding her character’s and Shem’s future, both actors are absolutely compelling. Ray Winstone is brilliantly deranged as Tubal-cain, telling an emotionally vulnerable Ham that a man’s will is the only important factor of life. Anthony Hopkins’ Methuselah is both vital to the plot and delivers some brief and welcome humor.
This movie, however, is not without its flaws, and most can be attributed to the various technicalities of the screenplay. Noah is 138 minutes, and it didn’t have to be. Most of the content following the first act and the flood feels long. Aronofsky and Ari Handel’s script seems happy to just lay dormant for periods of time, sopping up plot points at a sometimes alarmingly slow rate. Additionally, a solid and fantastically edited sequence shown in the middle of the film, showing the creation of the universe, through evolution and to a stylized rendition of the events in the Garden of Eden would have been more effective at the start.
I recommend Noah with a caveat – if you are a biblical purist and don’t care to see Lord of the Rings-style battles with rock monsters or a Noah who is greatly ethically questionable at times, don’t bother. However, regular moviegoers and less restrictive religious audiences should be able enjoy this imperfect but fascinating rendition of a classic Bible entry.