Written by Guillermo Troncoso.
Whether it be the bizarre sci-fi thriller that is Pi, the polarising discussion on love and reincarnation that is The Fountain, or the creepy character study on mental instability that is Black Swan, director Darren Aronofsky straddles the fine line between art and mainstream like few other directors can. Tackling a biblical story such as Noah is a natural next-step for the filmmaker; another chapter focusing on character’s dealing with internal changes in the midst of altogether larger journeys.
The marketing for Noah hasn’t exactly been forthright in what to expect from the film. The fantastical elements aren’t clearly presented, and may prove to be too jarring for certain audiences. Aronofsky’s take on the classic tale is dark and violent, and is an impressive opus that grounds the larger-than-life story while managing to deliver some big-screen excitement with brains. There are some hindrances, as the film falters slightly with an uneven tone, questionable moments of CGI, and a last act that dips into melodrama once too often. It’s an audacious attempt to bring a different type of Bible-pic to our screens, and a gutsy move by major studios willing to back it.
The world of Noah is as beautiful as it is turbulent. The Icelandic landscapes are used exceptionally well, providing a wondrous visual playground for Noah and his family to inhabit. Unfortunately, they share this world with mostly sinners and evildoers, whose days are numbered. Noah receives potent nightmares telling him that the Lord intends to destroy the world with an all-encompassing deluge. Along with the help of interestingly imagined fallen angels, Noah and his family begin building an ark to save the innocent: the animals.
Those expecting an old-fashioned biblical epic may be in for a surprise, those that are versed with Aronofsky’s work shouldn’t be. Aronofsky’s screenplay, co-written by Ari Handel (who also penned the story behind The Fountain), is daring and awe-inspiring in its scope. The story of a man and his family who save animals from a flood could have been done simply, but Aronofsky and his team ensure that every scene exudes meaning and ponderous depth. The various meanings and messages range from inspired to downright silly in their execution, but their reception is highly dependent on the individual witnessing the film. Noah is an epic that holds great discussions on philosophy and faith, while pushing a heavy dose of environmentalism.
Right from the get-go, it’s clear that this film won’t be dodging any religious aspects of the film. God exists, angels exist, and the Lord is quite willing to provide evidence of his might. Regardless of one’s leanings regarding faith, the film establishes its world quickly and it becomes easy to accept the escalating events. Certain groups have expressed their qualms with the angles taken by Aronofsky, but those arguments become somewhat futile when discussing a work that explores a story looked at differently by so many faiths. Aronofsky has done a great job in combining as many elements, from scripture and other sources, to develop a story that isn’t afraid to delve into what a man’s relationship with God can entail.
Russell Crowe gives a strong performance; a potent reminder of how impressive the actor can be on-screen. This Noah is a troubled individual, a man so determined to follow the wishes of his creator that he is pushed to the edge of sanity. Noah doesn’t exclaim his emotions, and Crowe revels in the opportunity to bring depth and nuance to a brooding figure. His love for the planet and its inhabitants is tangible, and the internal turmoil that accompanies his task is realistically handled. At first a gift, God’s mission develops into a sort of curse for Noah and his family.
Jennifer Connelly also brings her A-game in a role that she has pretty much mastered by now: the supporting wife. Once again acting off a troubled Crowe (she won an Academy Award for her performance in A Beautiful Mind), Connelly does the best she can with a disappointingly-underwritten character. Marvel at her performance as she pleads with her stubborn husband in an emotional scene.
Unfortunately, this is completely Noah’s story, and his family, while altogether important, doesn’t get much to do as individuals. His sons, especially his eldest, barely get a look in. In saying that, Logon Lerman’s Ham does a get a moderately convincing sub-plot involving the want for a wife. Emma Watson stands out from the pack as an adopted daughter and Anthony Hopkins does his thing as Methuselah, Noah’s grandfather, who seems to be only in the film as a conveniently placed plot-pusher.
Ray Winstone does a serviceable job as Tubal-cain, the film’s villain, but save some interesting discussions on why human’s have the right to rule, his character fails to rise above the usual baddie-type.
The film’s key disaster is wonderfully handled. A jaw-dropping sequence that gets the heart thumping. The panic-stricken race by crowds to the ark as rain falls is brilliantly handled, culminating in some Lord of the Rings-type action. Iconic images as water swallowing up the masses abound. One can’t help but feel when witnessing these crowds desperately try to survive, and a scene in which a hopeless group hangs on to one of the final protruding rock formations, only to be smashed by an incoming wave, is both shocking and awe-inspiring in its simplicity.
For all the incredible factors giving the film its quality, including an epic score by Aronofsky-regular Clint Mansell, there are a number of issues that threaten to almost sink the ship. While the entire finale is wonderfully brought to life, the quality of the film’s CGI is frustratingly inconsistent. A pair of newborn babies couldn’t be worse handled and certain scenes with animals are poorly executed, looking almost animated as opposed to anything resembling reality. Another issue: the film’s plot turn aboard the ark. Without giving anything away, Noah takes on a persona that, while necessary, comes across as more of a caricature. The film’s melodrama kicks in big-time and characters’ actions become increasingly unbelievable. It’s as though Aronofsky figured he had way more to say, yet couldn’t find a good enough plot device to discuss it in.
Noah is a spectacular film on so many levels, yet there seems to be a sort-of clash between Aronofsky’s attempts to bring his examinations to life and his determination to wrap them within the packaging of a blockbuster. Still, as a whole, there’s no denying the fact that this is a decidedly different epic that manages to hit home. This is a big, multilayered film that feels like an indie backed by studio cash. It’s bound to polarise audiences everywhere, but Noah demands to be seen. Best you oblige.
THE REEL SCORE: 7/10