Friday, April 4, 2014


** out of ****

Noah is a film that I was rooting for. At the risk of offending biblical literalists, I believe that any version of The Bible contains some amazing pieces of mythical fantasy adventure. I also think that Cecil B. DeMille saw this when he and Paramount Pictures made The Ten Commandments in 1956. I never managed to see Son of God last month, but I was very turned off by how unimaginative it looked. I was exited to think that a visionary filmmaker like Darren Aronofsky would have a refreshing take on the first story that captured my attention in Sunday School. He succeeds in some places even though the movie feels kind of …crazy. Like the Nicholas Cage movie, Knowing, there are some heavy ideas, but it didn’t leave me with any desire to see it again. Even when this film is at its best, it feels too horrific to be spiritual.

It’s interesting that this movie felt crazy to me because Aronofsky has a talent for involving us in a protagonist’s madness. In past films like π and Black Swan, he continually shows us the gears turning the character’s head so that we are prepared for the troubles they will cause and receive. In this movie, we’re shown astonishing surreal visions, which are glimpses of the divine information given to Noah. But there is little to emotionally justify how he interprets them.

Without spoiling too much, the movie really lost me at a point late in the story when Noah has lost the love and trust of his family when his devotion to “The Creator” is outweighing his goodness. This dark turn is interesting but it doesn’t feel justified. Noah’s dark determination needs more weight.

I am the last person to jump on the Russell Crowe-hating bandwagon, but he offers nothing unique to this film other than an international box-office draw. This version of the prophet requires a lot of emotional range and Crowe is just giving us a standard built-in performance that he uses when in epic movies. No one is interestingly cast in this film. Anthony Hopkins as Noah’s elderly wizard grandfather was a choice so typical it felt ridiculous. Why didn’t Aronofsky regular, Mark Margolis play this guy?

I like Jennifer Connelly, Logan Lerman and Emma Watson as Noah’s family but I feel as thought there’s a missed opportunity to make the film from their perspectives instead of Noah’s -like in Bill Paxton’s Frailty, a film that showed children struggle with obeying their father who carries out a disturbing mission he claims to be from God.  

The trouble with involving an audience in a biblical story is how un-relatable its world and characters can seem. This movie has that problem. Aronofsky has some great ideas for the way the pre-flood ancient world looks. On a bright clear day, the stars are visible in the sky. Mysterious now-extinct animals roam about and there are ROCK MONSTERS! They are fallen angels who have become golems and will help Noah build the Ark. I’ll admit that I like this (“They look like big strong hands don’t they?”) Nick Nolte appropriately provides the voice of the one most loyal to Noah for his noble lineage.

The rest of Man is descended from Cain and has corrupted the earth. Ray Winstone (Sexy Beast) plays their wicked leader who embraces the free will of men to plunder. Some scenes featuring his people are terrifying and made me wonder how the film avoided an “R” rating. He learns of Noah’s existence and will try to take the ark when the flood becomes a reality.

Generally, this is a fantastic version of the world but everyone and everything seems so alien. There is very little to seduce us into suspending our disbelief.

With a reputation for independent art-house cinema, Aronofsky has danced around mega-budget projects for a while and this one wound up being his first. The money is definitely on the screen. The best parts are in passages of stylized cinematography and editing conveying earth’s creation in Genesis and we see something quite similar to the visual splendor of the new Cosmos series on Fox –or Terrence Malick’s amazing film, The Tree of Life. I guess that I wanted more of this kind of imagery to rule the film.

The movie takes a definite ecological stance, which is what I always got from the story in my religious upbringing. If the story of the flood was not meant to represent a warning for humans to be humbled by the earth and to show it respect, then I don’t know what it’s about.

There are strong concepts in this movie but it is rather scatter-brained and the guilty pleasure I get from Waterworld does more for me.

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