Starring: Russell Crowe (Gladiator), Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind), Ray Winstone (The Sweeny), Emma Watson (Harry Potter), Logan Lerman (The Perks of Being a Wallflower), Anthony Hopkins (Thor)
Director: Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan)
Writers: Darren Aronofsky & Ari Handel (The Fountain)
Runtime: 2 hours 18 minutes
Release Date: 28 March (US), 4 April (UK)
Biblical epics used to be a big deal. Films like The Ten Commandments were huge tentpole pictures with lavish sets and packed with stars. Now they’re a scarce breed, with most of the ones that remain being religious propaganda. But happens when a filmmaker with not only a bold presentation style, but is also an atheist, takes on a biblical epic? Noah has been stirring up controversy on both sides of the fence since its inception, with rumours abound about botched test screenings and trouble between Darren Aronofsky, Paramount Pictures and various religious groups. But now that the director’s true vision has been released, was all the hubbub worth it?
Most of you are probably familiar with the basic beats of the story of Noah’s Ark, and the film hits on all of these moments. But in the grand scheme of things, the most familiar aspects of the story are both the least interesting and least focused-on parts of the film. The film is actually much more character-based than you might expect; it’s less a tale of survival and instead a story about one man’s crisis of faith. It deals with the struggle to be a good man and the temptations that come with it; a story about learning to not always follow everything to the letter and decide what you think is best. It’s a fascinating tale to watch, and it’s well paced and engrossing enough that it makes those two-plus hours fly by in an instant. Aronofsky’s approach to the religious elements of the story is somewhat ambiguous (the word “God” is never uttered for example) but I think respectful in many ways too. The film examines the good that can come from faith, but also the bad; it neither demonises the religious nor does it hold them on a pedestal. Regardless, I can see why the more fervently faithful have a problem with its depiction of the story but I don’t think Aronofsky has done anything to sully the original text. In many ways, I think he’s made it a much more approachable and timely story. In viewing it from an unbiased perspective, Aronofsky has crafted a narrative that can be viewed as a metaphor for any struggle, both internal and external. A scene where Noah tells the whole “Earth created in six days” story whilst we are shown a montage of the world’s creation from a more scientific perspective epitomizes the film’s goals in mere minutes, and if that sounds like too much for you then this film clearly wasn’t made for you.
Russell Crowe doesn’t always hit the mark in every film he does, but when he’s good he’s good. His portrayal of Noah is far more complex that you’d think at first. Remember: this is a guy who believes a man in the sky wants him to build a giant box to save the animals from a flood. As such, Noah in this story is less of a kindly idol and more of a mildly deranged obsessive. By the time the flood nears, you don’t even particularly like Noah but you still understand and sympathise with him. He’s a man trying to do what he thinks is right but constantly questions his beliefs and motives. Crowe manages to convey all of this tremendously, investing fully into a much more layered and fascinating portrayal of the character. Jennifer Connelly isn’t always given a huge amount to do as Noah’s wife Naameh, but she seizes every moment she is given and somewhat voices the audience’s frustration with Noah’s actions in the final act. Ray Winstone’s villainous Tubal-cain is a somewhat basic antagonist, but the role works to Winstone’s strengths and he remains a threatening presence throughout. Anthony Hopkins’ role is small but key, and he milks every moment he can. Emma Watson gives what is arguably her best performance since Harry Potter ended, and whilst Logan Lerman is by no means an astonishing actor he does manage to bring his A game in a role that is admittedly a little underdeveloped. Still, it’s far more than Douglas Booth and Leo McHugh Carroll are given as Noah’s other two sons, which is especially puzzling in Booth’s case since his and Watson’s relationship is a key part of the film.
Darren Aronofsky’s visual aesthetic has always been both striking and bizarre, and Noah is no exception. His vision of a pre-flood Earth is one that seems more at home in a fantasy film, and this fanciful approach to the material is one that permeates every aspect of its design. After all, this is a film where fallen angels are depicted as giant rock monsters. The cinematography is gorgeous and emphasises the epic scale of this story. The grandeur of the production is vast and impressive to behold, with desolate landscapes and the harsh griminess of Tubal-cain’s camp contrasted against luscious forests and the massive wooden crate that is the ark. The visual effects are consistently impressive, both in its depiction of the animals and the flood, and Clint Mansell delivers an impressive score worthy of a film of this scale.
As a person with an indifference towards religion, I didn’t expect to like Noah as much as I did but it really is an impressive piece of cinema. It takes the material in interesting and bold directions, making for a film that can be enjoyed by everyone and not just those of faith. In fact, I think you’re more likely to enjoy it if you’re not a religious person. Noah is either the artiest blockbuster ever made or the most expensive art film ever made, but either way you look at it it’s just awesome. Ignore any prejudices you have and go see it for yourself.
FINAL VERDICT: 9.5/10