PLOT: Noah (Russell Crowe) – a descendant of Seth, and one of the few righteous men left in the world, experiences visions where the “creator” reveals his plan to wipe out life on Earth via an apocalyptic flood. Noah – who is to be spared along with his family – is commanded to build an ark big enough to carry enough animal life to repopulate the earth once humanity is wiped out. However, the violent descendants of Cain – led by Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone) – pose a threat to Noah and his family, as they refuse to be wiped out so easily.
REVIEW: Right from the time it was announced, it was clear that director Darren Aronofsky’s NOAH was going to be anything but your standard biblical yarn. One need only look at his previous movies to see that. He makes bold, challenging films and NOAH is nothing if not both of those things. Reimagining the biblical story as a full-on fantasy epic, Aronofsky’s contemporary approach may upset die-hard creationists, but even the most devout audience may find a lot to like about Aronofsky’s take on the material, provided they go into it with an open mind.
The basics of the biblical story are left intact. However, Aronofsky seems much less interested in making a religious film than telling a morality tale about how a planet that’s ravaged by mankind on a daily basis cannot possibly sustain itself. Here, Noah is kind of proto-environmentalist, instructing his sons Shem (Douglas Booth), Ham (Logan Lerman) and Japeth (Leo McHugh Carroll) that the land and its inhabitants are to be respected, and that doesn’t include killing for meat. Noah is so enraged early-on by the killing of an animal that it’s suggested he kills the men responsible (although this is not explicitly shown), although this should be kept in the context of the film. Here, the pre-flood world is an apocalyptic wasteland, with the vast majority of humanity having been reduced to rampaging hordes of rapists and killers. Noah himself is presented as a kind of warrior, charged with protecting his land and his family, including his wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) and an adopted orphan named Ila (Emma Watson) who’s been left barren after suffering a vicious wound.
The fantasy aspects of the film are emphasized at every turn, with Noah and his family protected by stone giants called “Watchers” (voiced by Kevin Durand, Nick Nolte, and Frank Langella) who help them build the ark. This helps make certain parts of the story easier to absorb, although the idea of Noah and his family being charged with repopulating the planet is as tough to swallow as it was in Sunday school. Working with his biggest budget to date, Aronofsky’s film never fails to dazzle on a visual level, with incredible CGI and gorgeous, award-caliber cinematography by his usual DP Matthew Libatique. The score by Clint Mansell is also exceptional and may be his best work to date (rivaling REQUIEM FOR A DREAM).
Aronofsky’s fantasy take on Noah’s Ark leads to some breathtaking moments, including the brutal flood (very hard for a PG-13), and throughout the 135 minute running time, the movie never fails to engage the viewer. However, special credit is due to star Russell Crowe, who gives one of the best performances of his career. Years ago, Chris Rock made a mean joke at the Oscars about how no one should be cast in historical epics other than Russell Crowe. Like he did in GLADIATOR, MASTER & COMMANDER, and yes, even ROBIN HOOD, Crowe gives the film the gravitas is absolutely needs. There are very few actors left with the old-time “movie star” presence that Crowe has, and nowhere is that more evident than here. Noah is a tough role, as he goes from being a noble hero to something a lot more complicated by the time the credits roll, and this ranks with his best work. Jennifer Connelly – his old co-star from A BEAUTIFUL MIND – is very good as his saintly wife Naameh, and their chemistry is as strong as ever. As the nominal antagonist, Ray Winstone chews the scenery with a vengeance, but even this proves to be a complicated part, especially through his interactions with Noah’s son Ham. Doomed to live out his days without a woman by his side (with Watson’s Ila in love with Shem), Ham’s anger is righteous, and his tense relationship with Noah is expertly explored. Logan Lerman – the former PERCY JACKSON – really gets to show what he’s capable of here, and his performance is often amazing, even when he’s going toe-to-toe with the powerhouse Crowe. By comparison, Watson and Booth get relatively little to do, although once their devotion is tested by a dark turn in the last act, both rise to the occasion. Anthony Hopkins also gets a juicy cameo as the aged Methuselah, with his humor and warmth giving us a break from the necessary bleakness of the story (I wouldn’t call this uplifting). It’s also fun to see Marton Csokas, whose resemblance to Crowe has long been noted, in a small part as Noah’s father.
While conservative Christian audiences may well condemn this movie sight unseen, it’s hard to see how they can really be offended. Nothing in the biblical story is contradicted, although the fantasy aspect will probably bug die-hard creationists who believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible. Aside from them, NOAH deserves to be appreciated by a mainstream audience (and that includes Christians) in that it’s the rare tentpole movie with a lot of thought behind it, and a real piece of auteur cinema. At the same time, it’s never ponderous or the slightest bit pretentious, and never anything less than entertaining. More than anything out there other than THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, this is an absolute must-see.