Movie Review: ‘Noah’ – God’s Big Do-Over
Based only on blind faith, it’s tough for me to swallow the story of a 500+ year-old man building a boat to harbor animals, so that the Earth can be repopulated after the Creator is done wiping it clean with an apocalyptic flood. There are of course those that can swallow it, and I don’t want to be the one to tell them they’re wrong. I can no more prove the lack of a God, than I can prove His existence. Perhaps the fact that I capitalize “His” is subconsciously revealing a belief in a Divine presence. Or maybe I just try to have good grammar skills.
As you may have guessed, I’m not a Bible guy, but I do know that Noah built an ark, with animals 2 by 2, driving rains, etc. Most of that learning came from a service station in my hometown that ran a Noah’s Ark toy promotion. You bought an ark for ten bucks and every time you came back to fill up the tank, the grease monkey gave you the animal of the week. To this day, I cannot forgive my parents for not needing gas on Rhinoceros week, thus denying me a full set of ark inhabitants.
Suffice it to say, I approached Darren Aronofsky‘s Noah as a Hollywood film, not a literal translation of the Bible. As with any religious-based film, many people will have their swaddling clothes in a bunch as they demonize the film. Whatever. It’s a flick from the guy that gave us Requiem For A Dream, The Wrestler and Black Swan, starring Russell Crowe and Hermione Granger. If you didn’t expect Paramount to take some liberties as they made it to be more palatable for a mainstream audience, well then, that’s your misgiving to reconcile with.
But is it good?
On the surface, yes. If you allow it to be what it is- a Hollywood version in a fantasy-style epic- there’s enough to Noah to allow for an enjoyable experience. If you choose to get caught up in the vast stretches of implausibility then you may miss a lot of the film due to eye-rolling. If you expect nothing less than point-for-point biblical interpretation, you will likely hang yourself from the rafters. For the most part, these leaps-of-faith exist within the narrative of the Noah parable and aren’t the fault of the filmmakers. Of course, adding giant rock monsters into the context, probably doesn’t add value to their credibility.
The movie is basically a Hatfield and McCoy‘s narrative. On one side, the descendants of Cain are running roughshod on the world, sinning at every turn, you know… being human. On the other side is Noah and his family serving the planet as the sole descendants of the line of Seth. They have no time for tom-foolery and shenanigans as they live as denizens of faith in service to the Creator. As the Creator grows weary of the fallacies of the human race, he taps Noah on the shoulder and tasks him with helping to save the innocents of the planet- the animals. As a reward, Noah and his family get to become the sole survivors and incestuously re-populate the planet, after He annihilates mankind from existence. Not too tough a sell when your family is Jennifer Connelly and Emma Watson I suppose. I won’t get into a discussion of where Black people came from, as there were none on Aronofsky’s ark.
Kidding aside, even with the liberties taken in order to make the film more interesting, Aronofsky does nothing to bastardize the religious connotations of the Noah story. Themes of service, forgiveness, consequence and salvation are present throughout. Just pay no attention to the giant rock-monsters helping to build the ark and you’ll be fine. Yes, I’m infatuated with giant rock-monsters.
Darren Aronofsky’s interview with CBS regarding some of the controversy surrounding Noah:
Aronofsky’s familiar touch is present within Noah. Most notably is his penchant for using the camera to give the viewer a sense of the mood as it is conveyed on screen. In moments of chaos, camera movements can be chaotic. He uses shots from behind characters as a method to help the viewer immerse themselves in first-person perspective. He doesn’t overdo it, but utilizes the technique masterfully at times. Aronofsky is nothing, if not ambitious. Noah is by far the biggest budget he’s had to play with, and I wish he would have passed a few extra bones under the table to the CGI effects team. As you would expect, many scenes rely heavily on CGI, and too often critical moments fail to impress due to poor effects and sloppy transitions.
The Cast Saves the Film
The cast saves the film in many instances, and often give credibility to incredible plot points. Russell Crowe has proven his salt as an epic genre front-man many times, and he is as invested here as he is in any of his previous films. Even when the narrative forces him to become a version of Noah that is not typically associated with the biblical version, Crowe is believable. Jennifer Connelly as Noah’s wife, Naameh, feels somewhat under-utilized, but is solid in the few juicy scenes when she gets to show her chops. Emma Watson continues to distance herself from the confines of Hogwarts, and proves yet again that she is more than a pretty Muggle-born in magical robes. Her turn as the adoptive daughter, Ila, is memorable and at times, powerful.
Noah’s three sons Shem, Ham and Japheth, played respectively by Douglas Booth, Logan Lerman and Leo McHugh Carroll often feel added on only because the story requires it. The eldest, Shem, and the youngest, Japheth, rarely get anything of substance to do. There is a forced sub-plot featuring Ham that never feels quite right, as if the studio wanted to get more bang for their buck out of the more widely-known Lerman.
On the fringes, but chewing up scenery when allowed their brief moments is Anthony Hopkins. He is Noah’s great grandfather, Methuselah, who lives on a mountain, practicing Devine gynecology, and serving up wacky tea to whomever cares to stop by for fatherly advise. Ray Winstone as Tubal-cain, the obligatory antagonist who somehow manages to avoid his comeuppance until closer to the conclusion.
For all of it’s faults, Noah provides enough entertainment to make it worth seeing. It’s a bleak, often depressing film, but credit to Aronofsky and Co. for reigning in studio interference and keeping the main sub-text of the story intact. I can see where purists may have an issue with the result, but those folks are better off reconciling with the fact that this is a Hollywood movie, or simply avoiding the film altogether. For those of my ilk – those who are most ignorant of the sub-text of biblical history – perhaps we would have paid more attention in Sunday school if their had been more giant rock-monsters in these stories.