I don’t think people had a lot of faith in Biblical movies anymore (see what I did there?) Biblical movies these days are a far-cry from the days of The Ten Commandments, King of Kings, and Ben-Hur. In recent years, we have had the controversial Passion of the Christ and The Last Temptation of Christ; and this year we already have Son of God, which is another look at the life of Jesus, but from the previews it is apparent that someone in the religious community had a whole lot to do with the production, which results in a bit of on-the-nose teachings about the Bible and forcing teachings down our throats.
Noah brings back that faith, and also introduces us to a somewhat easier to digest form of the messages and theme’s taught in the Bible. No, this is definitely not a faithful adaptation to the chapter in the Bible, and it was certainly was not made to appeal to those who would expect a more traditional telling of the story.
Darren Aronofsky returns to directing nearly 4 years after Black Swan, and this is most certainly his most “blockbuster” film ever. A budding independent filmmaker a little over a decade ago, Aronofsky had only directed 5 films prior to Noah, most of them not having a whole lot to do with special effects. The Fountain is his most ambitious film other than Noah. Yet for a tale so vast and epic, Aronofsky takes the story of Noah and turns it into something he is familiar with: a character study.
For all of you who don’t know (I doubt there aren’t many who actually don’t), the story of Noah follows, well, Noah, in his attempt to save his family and humankind from the cleansing of God. The world has become a very corrupt place, we are informed through an animated flashback of sorts at the beginning of the film, and “The Creator,” which is what God is called in this film, is not happy.
We are introduced to Noah in his childhood as he witnesses his father murdered by the corrupted people of the land; and then we are whisked away to him with a child of his own, Shem, who too witnesses the corrupted people of the land. Another jump in time and Noah has his vision about the coming of God’s judgement, and he sets off to find his grandfather Methuselah, who helps show him the way, after that we jump another 10 years into the future, with the construction of the Ark already underway. This is where a good portion of the movie takes place. Because after the arrival of the animals, the corrupted people, led by Tubal-cain, arrive looking to take control of the Ark, begging for the line, “You’re gonna need a bigger Ark.”
Most of the stuff that has occurred thus far did not take place in the Bible. Those going to see this must know that this is a more mythological telling of the story as opposed to biblical. I may have forgotten to mention that assisting Noah and his family are “The Watchers”, fallen angels who are basically giant stone Golems, essentially something you would find in a fantasy tale. There are also scaly dogs and magical gold rocks that explode when hit with enough force. Once the corrupted people show up, the story starts to feel a bit like an action movie, and this may steer people away. Some scenes are very reminiscent of Lord of the Rings. So just be prepared to see some violence.
I won’t go into any more details about the plot because it is actually quite a long buildup to the actual Ark-riding. But that is also when we see the effects of all the events on Noah, and where Aronofsky’s real style comes out.
In Black Swan we see Natalie Portman’s character descend into somewhere she cannot return from. In The Fountain, Hugh Jackman’s character is constantly trying to find a way to save himself and his love. In The Wrestler, Mickey Rourke’s character too tries to support what remains of his family and also survive for himself. Russell Crowe’s Noah is a culmination of all of these characters. While we do get the building of the Ark, the actual storm, and aftermath; it is Crowe’s performance that drives the movie. At the beginning we are in full support of Noah, but as the film goes on, he slowly descends into a cruel and unforgiving monster who will stop at nothing to do what The Creator asked of him. He is truly a terrifying man at times, and we do not know if he will actually follow through with some of his threats. Yet, at times he retains his good natured, fatherly figure like his performance as Jor-El in Man of Steel, which makes it harder for us to see him descend.
Apart from Crowe’s great performance, he is supported by a superb cast that features Jennifer Connolly as his wife, Naameh; Anthony Hopkins as Methuselah; Emma Watson as Ila, Ray Winstone as Tubal-cain; and Logan Lerman as Ham. Connolly and Aronofsky are reunited for the first time since Requiem for a Dream, and she gives a great performance as a wife who watches her husband change into a monster. Watson, probably the strongest of the supporting cast, plays an orphan taken under the wings of Noah and his family. She gives a heartbreaking and powerful performance, and dare I say it’s her best one yet? Other than Hermione of course. Lerman also holds his weight as the envious and bitter son who thinks that nothing will ever go his way, as he clashes with his father several times throughout the film.
Another star of the film, in my opinion at least, is the special effects. From the animated opening sequence, to a somewhat condensed version of the creation of the universe, and finally to the storm and aftermath; it is truly spectacular and is a real feast for the eyes.
The downsides of this film is it’s final bit. It feels like Aronofsky got scared about how long the movie was getting and decided to cram in as much as possible to keep it under two and a half hours. The result is a somewhat muddled concluding act, but it doesn’t do too much to tarnish from the movie.
So, if you want to see a great movie that shows us new look at a story that has been told for centuries, that has excellent special effects, and has great performances to boot, check out Noah. But do be prepared to not like it if you are expecting something absolutely faithful to the source material, or one that glosses over the nitty-gritty aspects of the story. Noah gives us a restored faith in biblical films, let’s hope that they can all be like this.