The controversial storm set off by the release of Noah is shaping up to be bigger than the storm in the movie. Right wingers are having a hay day protesting this film for it’s inaccurate and somewhat offensive take on the biblical hero that saved humanity. “Well that didn’t happen that way.” “That person shouldn’t be in that place right now.” “That’s not in the Bible anywhere.” “Is that a giant Transformer made of rock?” Instead of throwing around all these questions, let’s just take a step back and observe Noah for what it is: a bold, epic, and artistic interpretation of one of the most well known stories on planet earth. Seriously, name one other adaptation of this material that did it justice and served to be not only entertaining, but good filmmaking. The Jon Voight version? Give me a break. Not only does Darren Aronofsky’s Noah do the biblical tale justice, it goes even further than that. Religious purists will probably be offended. They already are, and the movie just released. Don’t take your grandparents to this one. Aronofsky brings this tale to the big screen for the 21st century. And with a story that takes up maybe three pages of the Bible, artistic license is sure to be taken if a 140 minute movie is to be made.
Whether you believe the biblical account of Noah to be a literal occurrence or just a nice parable on the wickedness of mankind, you can’t deny that it’s one of the greatest stories on earth, mainly because it’s one of the oldest. The story has been read and taught for generations, and it’s pretty crazy that someone in the 21st century can make it into a movie that can hold up as relevant. Enter Darren Aronofsky. Coming off his 2010 psycho-sexual thriller Black Swan, Aronofsky may not have necessarily been the best choice of director for something this epic, but he does exactly what any film geek and lover of Aronofsky’s films would expect. He superbly brings his visual flare to the table, and it pays off… for the most part. Black Swan showcased bleak and horrific imagery, combined with swift camerawork and placement that gave the movie a dark vibe. That is what Aronofsky does best. Much like Peter Jackson and Zack Snyder, he is known as a visual director, which means his movies are expressive mostly in the visual aspect. And that is definitely the case with Noah. Having already released a graphic novel to support the film, Darren Aronofsky clearly knew what he wanted this movie to look like. The opening scene, which gives a brief history of the Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden, is slick to look at, and a later scene in which Noah recounts the creation of the universe is swift and expertly handled, specifically a camera track that follows a fish that evolves into a land animal, which then evolves into more superior land animals up until man. It actually blew my mind. But as I said, his visual flare pays off for the most part. Here is where we reach The Watchers. In Genesis, the Bible speaks of “Sons of Man.” Theologians have speculated as to what these creatures actually were. The most common interpretation is that they are fallen angels. And boy, does Darren Aronofsky and co-writer Ari Handel have fun writing these guys. They are fallen angels indeed. But after they fell from heaven they emerged as rock solid Transformer-looking creatures. They look like something straight out of Lord of the Rings. At first, these creatures look cartoony and campy, but as the film progresses, they grow on you. The visual splendor of Aronofsky is in full effect during Noah’s scenes with God (here only referred to as “The Creator”) during his dreams. The most impressive of the visuals, however, come when the flood arrives. The shots of the animals boarding the ark, and The Watchers helping build the ark, and the shots of the ark on the water were nothing short of breathtaking.
But what is a story like Noah’s Ark without a great cast of performances to lead it along? Here is where we get Russell Crowe stepping into the role of the heroic Patriarch. I don’t think anyone had any doubts about Russell Crowe being in this role. He is an every man, and with the scraggly beard he certainly looks the part. And he does a solid job in the role, as everyone expected. It takes a surprising turn in the final scenes, however, as Noah’s humanity, which is showcased throughout, begins to seep itself into our hearts. Crowe almost brought me to tears. Supporting him is a stellar Jennifer Connelly, offering some of the best work I’ve seen from her. Having previously played a spouse to Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind, it was cool to see the two as an onscreen couple again, and Connelly was terrific. The great Anthony Hopkins does fine and sometimes humorous work as Methuselah, Logan Lerman gives a pretty strong performance as Ham, and Emma Watson gives probably her career best performance (yes, I said it) as II-la, spouse of Shem (Douglas Booth, who also gives great work in the closing act.) But how about Ray Winstone as Tubal Cain, leader of a large group of wicked humans in Noah’s area, eating up every scene he’s in with his villainous persona. Sure, his character is fictional, as is most of this movie, but it was a welcome addition to this astounding rendition of the story.
Noah isn’t a flawless movie by any means. As mentioned, The Watchers are a bit rough to get used to (pun intended), but even aside from that, the film has many sequences that feel a bit bloated, such as the battle sequences. Yes, it was awesome to see Ray Winstone charging his army toward the ark and the giant Transformer looking angels obliterating them with their fists, but after a while, it begins to resonate as just a bit too much. Also, the first act of the film tends to drag a bit. I wasn’t entirely sure where the movie was headed. But once it got on track, it was a great ride that zipped along without even the slightest feeling of its lengthy run time.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Director Darren Aronofsky has crafted a tremendously polarizing movie with Noah. One side hates it because it follows the writers’ imaginations instead of the Bible, others hate it because they hate anything to do with the Bible. And then there are the logical people. Ones that stay out of the mix of controversy, take a large step back, and view this movie for what it is. This is Darren Aronofsky proving that even the oldest and most sacred of tales can be brought to vibrant life with a touch of imagination and artistic creativity. Noah is bold, dauntless, and idiosyncratic cinema.