Review by Daniel Rester
Darren Aronofsky is one of the more daring and visionary American directors working today. From Pi (1998) all the way to Black Swan (2010), Aronofsky has continually surprised audiences with his choices in substance and style – though some see him as an acquired taste. He continues that stretch with Noah, working on a larger budget ($125 million) than he ever has before and taking on a biblical-inspired story at the same time.
Noah is loosely based on the story of Noah’s Ark from Genesis. The film stars Russell Crowe as the title character, a man who is told by God (through dreams and visions) to build a massive ark. The purpose of the ark is to shelter two of every kind of animal when the world floods and comes to an end – which in turn would protect the innocent (the animals) and eliminate the wicked (humans).
Anyone walking in to see Noah expecting just the straightforward story from Genesis will be sorely disappointed. Aronofsky dares to think in bigger and different ways, offering an interpretation that consistently asks “what if it could have happened this way?” He and co-writer Ari Handel use the source material as a blueprint in order to explore the inner-workings of Noah and the others around him. This involves one of Aronofsky’s seemingly favorite themes to work with: the dark level people are willing to go to for their passions and/or obsessions.
The writing by Handel and Aronofsky is fairly strong here, though not as complex as the director’s other works. The two allow a number of characters to have shining moments, and the majority of the dialogue is believable – and sometimes though-provoking. I wish the writers would have developed a few of the supporting players a bit more, but it is hard to complain since a lot of them had little depth to them to begin with in Genesis.
Included in the character set is Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), Noah’s loving wife who occasionally questions his actions. There is also Ham (Logan Lerman), Shem (Douglas Booth), and Japheth (Leo McHugh Carroll), the sons of the two. Shem falls in love with Ila (Emma Watson), a woman who is barren, while Ham yearns for a wife. Then we also have Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone), who is Noah’s nemesis, and Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins), Noah’s mysterious grandfather. Finally, there are The Watchers (two of whom are voiced by Frank Langella and Nick Nolte), fallen angels who help Noah with his great task.
The cast playing these characters here is uniformly solid. Crowe proves once again that he is a commanding lead, delivering a performance that gets to the humanity and obsession of this Noah. Winstone is terrific as well, making it look easy when he is going head to head with the imposing Crowe. While these two shine the most, the rest of the cast is strong too. Connelly and Watson get the tenderness and toughness of their parts down, while Lerman is capable (and holds his own next to Crowe and Winstone) as the most interesting of the sons. And Hopkins is just great as always.
The star of Noah, though, is Aronofsky. The film is a bit too long, drags at times, and has some CGI animals that aren’t too believable, but Aronofsky still keeps everything afloat (pun intended) for the most part. He and cinematographer Matthew Libatique truly capture the epic quality expected of this story on film, beautifully delivering images of amazing locations and production design. A lot of the visuals are stunning as well, especially in the flooding sequence. But it is Aronofsky’s daring steps with the story and characters, especially in the second half, which shines the most.
Noah feels more like it belongs in Lord of the Rings land at times than sitting next to films like The Ten Commandments (1956). Yet the fantastical elements and visuals worked for me because Aronofsky never fully abandons the initial story in favor of them. He also gets to the grit and angst of the various situations, deepening the story a bit on a human level. A lesser director could have easily dropped the ball on such things.
The film is never quite as great as it could have been, though, being alternately boring and spectacular in my eyes. It’s a controversial work that some will highly praise and others will attack. I’m more in the middle in ways, but I admire so much of the craftsmanship that I could never dismiss the film. It’s also one that gets better the more I dwell on it.
Score: 3 out of 4 stars (Grade Equivalent for Me: B+).
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for violence, disturbing images, and brief suggestive content).
Runtime: 2 hours and 18 minutes.
U.S. Release Date: March 28th, 2014.