Noah (Rated PG-13, 138 minutes)
Darren Aronofsky’s Noah has been his passion project since he was 13 years old: and being brought up in a Jewish household, the Brooklyn born director has always had aspirations to tell the famous parable. Now, it is important to point out that this is not a fundamentalist version of the famous story. Yes, the story sticks fairly close to the source material, but this is the director’s vision of Noah and not a strict religious interpretation like The Passion of the Christ. Now, audiences know the outcome of the story, so the director needs to make a compelling visual narrative to keep the audience invested. For the most part, Aronofsky creates a visually stunning drama that happens to have darker themes than the average ‘cookie-cutter’ Bible epic.
Now, the absolute best part of this movie is the stunning cinematography of Matthew Libatique: Aronofsky’s consistent cinematographer. While some aspects of Noah did not look pretty, particularly the exposition heavy beginning, the amazing nighttime and dream sequences help the viewer forgive the sometimes grainy palette. For the most part, Noah is a colorfully vibrant movie, and when they use the color of the sky or the sun, the screen enchants the viewer. But the beginning, as well as, the flood scenes reduces the color, which also, reduces the appeal of the picture. With that said, this still is the most beautiful mainstream film thus far and it could be the best all year. For instance, the scene where one can only see the silhouettes of the characters with the backdrop of the night sky is an enduring image.
And the visual style adds to the dream sequences and visions of Noah. The imagery of the apple, the serpent, and the eventual flood is both gorgeous and frightening: this imagery is as powerful as it is beautiful. There is another scene that describes the first sin of man, and Aronofsky powerfully shows Cain killing Abel, which is intercut with modern men killing each other: it fast forwards through time to show that man is always doomed to sin because humanity is wicked. This scene can be viewed as heavy handed, but with this darker version of Noah, it fits perfectly. And these powerful images are even more effective with Clint Mansell’s booming score: the vastly underrated composer adds the pulse expected with a Bible epic, but at the same time, the music never feels over-bearing. It fits perfectly with the world Aronofsky presents, as well as, the aforementioned tone.
Again, this is not the Bible epic that one expects to see; while it is as dark as Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, Noah’s implication of humanity and violence is much more effective than the ‘torture-porn’ of Jesus’ crucifixion. This movie debates man’s inherent evil, but also, shows the downside of the fanatical zealot through Crowe’s Noah. Noah, for all intents and purposes, is an anti-hero; by the end of the journey, the viewer will question Noah’s sanity and the god who willed the destruction. And this is why the religious viewers will have a problem with Aronofsky’s version; it reflects the bleak Old Testament, but at the same time, it happens to be the darkest interpretation of Noah that I have ever seen. And something as risky and forlorn as this, can only be made in the post-9/11 world. But even with Noah’s flaws, he looks like a saint compared to the villainous Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone): the evil King who happens to be a direct descendant of the murderous Cain. Ray Winstone has a tenacity that few could match, but this is only when he is given the proper role. While Winstone has been reduced to sub-par crap, his performance at times is perfectly conniving, yet terribly audacious; the character’s approach is flawed, but his willingness to do anything to survive makes him a formidable foe.
But unfortunately, not all the performances are properly fleshed out like Winstone’s terrifying villain. Emma Watson who has been under utilized in her post-Potter career, plays a single-minded female; though this is a Bible story, all Watson’s Ila cares about is being a wife and having children, which means she is not given a lot to do besides cry. On the other hand, Jennifer Connelly’s Naameh, who remains quiet throughout the picture, has a beautifully written breakdown scene; unfortunately, the usually great Connelly distractingly uses an abundance of snot and tears to drive the performance to excessive heights.
On top of this, the oldest and youngest sons are rarely compelling enough to warrant their screen time; the oldest, Shem, has a pretty boy face that does not compute anger, while the youngest, Japheth, is only used to progress the story. The lone interesting side character is Logan Lerman’s Ham, who can be whiny at times: but I connected with his curious and rebellious ways. Even the great Anthony Hopkins is poorly used in a four-minute role; his character is funny and engaging in his limited screen time, but his talents are wasted on a minute character.
However, Noah will succeed or fail based on the performance of its main actor; and fortunately, Russell Crowe gives a powerhouse performance as the over-zealous prophet. His quiet stare is just as telling as his beautifully performed monologues and his intensity matches the behavior of a man who just condemned millions to die. As I previously said, Noah is not a hero; he is a flawed character that over exemplifies the wickedness of men, as much as he attempts to condemn it. And the religious population will despise this interpretation of Noah, but this is Crowe’s best performance since 2007s American Gangster and 3:10 to Yuma. And by the end, this mostly stoic performance comes to a crashing halt, which makes Crowe’s Noah the most human portrayal of a biblical figure since Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ.
But again, the movie is plagued with problems throughout. For instance, the CGI is distractingly bad: particularly the CGI of the babies, animals and fallen angels (‘the watchers’). Though this film can only be done with CGI animals, their appalling look has no right to be in a big-budget film. On top of this, while some of the action scenes worked to show the wickedness of men, the final battle between ‘the watchers’ and Tubal-cain’s army did not fit this movie: the over the top violence and rock people result in a scene that should be in The Lord of the Rings trilogy and not a Bible epic.
However, the fantastic Darren Aronofsky holds this movie together; where other directors would have presented a safe ‘cookie-cutter’ version of Noah’s ark, he presents a deeply troubling portrait of an over-zealous man blindly following a scorned god. And though I wish Aronofsky stuck to the smaller pictures, he has proven that he is one of the few directors that can make a thought provoking mainstream film. And even if reports indicate that Aronofsky did not have total control over the final product, Noah is still a surprisingly dark stimulating take on a seasoned parable. Its flaws are evident, but its bold nature and fresh take makes them forgivable.