If you’re after an introspective examination of faith and existentialism directed by one of cinema’s most uniquely talented directors then you’d best watch Darren Aronofsky’s criminally maligned The Fountain.
If you want a Sunday school recreation of one of the Bible’s more familiar texts, filtered through a fantasy lens – one that flickers with brilliance while teetering on the precipice of ridiculousness – then form an orderly queue, two-by-two, for Noah.
Anyone expecting scripture verbatim has been warned prior to release, with trailers and marketing carrying a caveat that the film is only “inspired” by the story of Noah.
With that in mind we are dropped straight into an unnamed location (really the stunning vistas of Iceland) where we find Noah (Russell Crowe) experiencing prophetic visions about the end of days.
He is told by “the creator” that he must build an ark that can house the innocents of the world (the animals), before he presses reset on humanity by sending a flood to wipe everybody out. Allocated a seat onboard are his wife, Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), and their three sons, along with adopted daughter Ila (Emma Watson). Noah must then spend two hours wrestling with his faith, the elements, and Ray Winstone’s envious, deity defying bad guy.
Your appreciation of Noah rests entirely on expectation and your abandonment of any preconceptions. For an Aronofsky film it’s incredibly functional and unspectacular, aside from the wonderful star specked skyline and any number of tonally out of place but effective time-lapse sequences. One of these condenses evolution without raising any religious quandaries and is early front runner for sequence of 2014.
The fantastical element also asks a lot of the audience early on, with the artistic licence meaning the biblical description of “There were giants in the earth in those days” manifests itself as huge CGI rock monsters called The Watchers, who appear to have wondered in from the pages of Tolkien or The NeverEnding Story. If you accept such a leftfield interpretation then you’ll be more susceptible to enjoying Aronofsky’s vision.
As frustrating as anything on display is the script’s complete abandonment of the animals as a dramatic element, so when you’re becoming increasingly weary at the familial politics as Noah goes all Jack Nicholson in The Shining, the assorted beasties are sleeping through the entire journey. A rampaging lion would have worked so much better than Ray Winstone’s lizard munching stowaway.
The human element is much more successful, with Russell Crowe giving a performance in which he seems emotionally invested in a role for the first time in a while. He’s at his best when playing a morally conflicted hero, such as Bud White from L.A. Confidential, and his Noah is a figure of stoic exterior juxtaposed with inner turmoil. Despite a muted descent into third reel silliness, it is one of the main reasons that Noah floats.
Emma Watson also remains a watchable screen presence, even when she’s lumbered with some cringe-worthy histrionics, while Logan Lerman, the young Percy Jackson actor, manages to sidestep the laughably coiffed facial hair that handicaps his on-screen brother (Douglas Booth) to emerge with the most interesting narrative arc (no pun intended) of the entire movie.
Noah is a curious film, sporadically breathtaking in a way that reminds you who’s directing it, and has enough going on to fill a good few hours of post-film discussion. It’s never dull, but never close to being epic.
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Running Time: 138mins, USA, 2014
Cast: Russell Crow, Jennifer Connelly, Ray Winstone, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman
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