Starring Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, Douglas Booth, Mark Margolis, Kevin Durand, Leo McHugh Carroll, Marton Csokas, Finn Wittrock, Madison Davenport, Gavin Casalegno, Nolan Gross, Skylar Burke, Dakota Goyo, Ariane Rinehart, Adam Marshall Griffith, Don Harvey, Sami Gayle and the voices of Nick Nolte and Frank Langella.
Screenplay by Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel.
Directed by Darren Aronofsky.
Distributed by Paramount Pictures. 137 minutes. Rated PG-13.
If you are thinking that Darren Aronofsky – the quirky auteur behind such surreal and dark films as The Black Swan, The Wrestler, Pi and Requiem for a Dream – was an odd choice to helm a big-budget biblical epic, you are not alone. Noah was released to critical derision and audience indifference when it hit theaters earlier this year, despite the fact that smaller films like Heaven Is For Real and God’s Not Dead and the TV miniseries The Bible showed that there was an flourishing audience for religious-based films.
However, even under biblical pretenses, this is a very odd story to tell. God has a single good man build a giant boat, collect up one male and one female from every animal species on Earth so that they would survive as God floods the world to rid it of evil. All other human beings must die (even the good, the poor, the wretched, the innocent) and even all other animals, so that God can basically just wipe the world and try a reformat.
Let’s face it, He does not come out looking too good and compassionate in this story. This is your fire and brimstone version of God, not the “meek will inherit the Earth” fuzzier take of the supreme being.
Perhaps the biggest problem most people had with Aronofsky’s take of the tale is that he decided to treat The Bible like a literary cousin of The Lord of the Rings. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. The argument could be easily made that The Bible is a form of mythology and even the most fervent believer would be hard pressed to disprove it.
However, Aronofsky has created a biblical fantasy world complete with warring tribes, evil Kings, epic battle sequences, fiery pits of Hell and giant rock monsters.
Still, when Noah hit the multiplexes, the religious community was up in arms about all the liberties that Aronofsky took with the story. This is odd, because there is no real way of knowing what happened, or even if anything happened, other than a very brief passage in the Bible that was written thousands of years after the fact, based upon a legend passed down and embellished over hundreds of generations. Most people recognize the story of Noah and the Ark as a parable, not as a historical text.
The best way to enjoy Noah as a movie is to simply divorce it from its biblical roots and take it as a loosely historical action film a la 300, Clash of the Titans or Immortals.
In that context, what Aronofsky has created is rather stunning, a truly gorgeous, visually arresting and majestic slice of celluloid.
It is true that Aronofsky did indeed play fast and loose with the legend of Noah. In this slightly anachronistic Biblical world – remember this was just about ten generations removed from Cain and Abel – mankind had apparently already created pick-axes, knives, cannons, bear traps and even a very rudimentary pregnancy test.
The whole part of the watchers – the giant stone monsters who help Noah’s family build the ark – falls a little flat. The battle sequences also feel a little prefab, like Aronofsky felt there was not enough meat to his story and felt a need to spice things up a bit.
He really didn’t. Aronofsky’s artistic eye keeps Noah consistently interesting. Even when the slightly stiff dialogue sometimes clunks, the film is so beautifully shot that you tend to overlook it. There was one early scene, of Noah and his wife speaking in silhouette in front of the night sky, which was so gorgeous that it could be framed.
Aronofsky is not the only powerhouse talent here. Noah reunited Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly for the first time since their Oscar-winning work together in A Beautiful Mind (2001). There is are also strong supporting performances by Anthony Hopkins, Ray Winstone and Emma Watson.
Eventually how seriously you take Noah depends on how sacredly you take the legend that spawned it. Personally, I found Noah to be a beautiful-but-flawed near miss. It is a probably unfilmable story with both very good and very bad ideas strewn together throughout the movie. In the long run, the wrong impulses outnumber the right, but man, it looks good.
Jay S. Jacobs