Rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images and brief suggestive content
Cast: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ray Winstone, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, Douglas Booth and Anthony Hopkins
Written By: Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel
Directed By: Darren Aronofsky
Darren Aronofsky’s Noah is a lot of things. It’s a biblical epic, an action fantasy and a $125 million art film. You’ve heard the controversy – Noah is anti-religion, anti-Christianity and it skews the Bible – by God, it’s blasphemous! It isn’t. No, the film doesn’t closely follow the story of Noah’s Ark at all, but that’s because the original tale isn’t very long to begin with and Aronofsky has a feature length movie to fill. Let’s go ahead and forget the religious debate and talk about Noah in terms of cinema. It’s a very ambitious film – immense in scope and visually dazzling – but ultimately, Noah is a disappointment.
Aronofsky is the visionary director behind such artsy films as Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain, The Wrestler and Black Swan. Noah is his first big-budget extravaganza, but he’s crafted this blockbuster without discarding his art-house sensibilities. For one, Aronofsky and co-writer Ari Handel make the bold choice of never using the word God once throughout the picture – he is only ever referred to as The Creator.
The film uses inventive camerawork and artistry to depict Noah’s visions – taking us to The Garden of Eden, the flooding of the Earth and a enamoring sequence like something out of Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life where we’re brought on a visual journey of the seven-day creation of the universe. There’s no doubt that Aronofsky’s film looks beautiful, but he doesn’t use his unique style to enhance the storytelling – instead the dream sequences and visions feel like random asides.
Russell Crowe is a powerful leading man and does as fine a job as should be expected but that only helps so much when he’s let down by an uneventful script. It takes an awful long time for things to get going and once they do – it only leads to yet another halt afterwards – as there was a solid 45-minute chunk mid-film where I was quite bored.
The film boasts other strong performances, most notably Ray Winstone as the ruthless and intimidating Tubal-cain, who proves to be a good adversary against the also forceful Crowe. Jennifer Connelly as Noah’s wife Naameh is fine, as is Emma Watson as an orphaned child whom Noah and family take under their care. Both actresses are satisfactory, but it’s Logan Lerman as Noah’s disgruntled son Ham who stands out. He’s the biblical version of teenage angst – torn between an allegiance to his father and admiration for Tubal-cain. Anthony Hopkins also shows up in a somewhat campy performance as Noah’s wise old grandfather Methuselah.
One of the odder aspects of the film is the inclusion of fallen angels who’ve taken the form of giant rock monsters dubbed ‘The Watchers’, who look like a cross between the tree creatures from The Lord of the Rings and autobots of Transformers. They all sort of sound like Optimus Prime to boot – the voice actors among these giant rock figures including the gravelly Nick Nolte and Frank Langella.
When Noah, his family and all the world’s animals finally embark on their voyage, Noah becomes Jack Torrance and the Ark becomes the Overlook Hotel (that’s a reference to The Shining for those not in the know). Noah goes from a hero to a crazed prophet who believes that The Creator wants him to wipe out humanity as punishment for their sins – and only the animal kingdom shall inherit the Earth.
He informs his family of the order in which they will pass and whom will have to bury whom, but a wrench is thrown in his plans when the supposedly barren Ila (Watson) miraculously becomes pregnant. If she is to birth a girl, the baby will have to be killed as Noah’s youngest son is destined to be the last living human – so if I’m understanding correctly, if Noah’s son and granddaughter can procreate together – that’s a problem.
The incestuous overtones are never mentioned, yet can’t be ignored. The time spent on the Ark is probably the most interesting aspect of the film, but it’s also a longer than necessary sequence which further drags out the 2-hour and 15 minute runtime.
The best parts of Noah are the action sequences which harken back to LOTR. The massive Tubal-cain army battle Noah and The Watchers in an exciting event full of impressive CGI and skillfully choreographed fighting.
Unfortunately, it takes quite a while to arrive at this spectacle – and the rest of the battling is few and far between. It’s not that this needed to be an action blockbuster to be good, but when the rest of the storytelling is as dull as it is, it’s distinctly noticeable how much more enjoyable the film is when something actually happens.
Noah is an undisciplined and messy film featuring stretches bursting with awe amongst stretches inducing yawns. Aronofsky has crafted his film with the utmost care and attention to detail – the production design of the Ark itself being a marvel – but somewhere along the way he forget about efficiently telling a story.
Noah is original, daring and certainly has its captivating moments, but it features even more moments that are incompetently structured and paced. With all of the talent involved – Noah certainly isn’t a failure of biblical proportions – but this ship isn’t quite sturdy enough to make it worth the ride.