Swapping ballet shoes for a Bible, Oscar winning director of Black Swan and The Wrestler, Darren Aronofsky retells the story of Noah (Russell Crowe) tasked by God to build an Ark to protect all the beasts of the world from the coming flood that will wipe clean the earth of the wicked. Yet despite all the Biblical trappings, the resulting film is less about the miracles and more about the man.
Plagued by prophetic visions, Noah is charged with building a colossal ship to save those still pure and innocent – the animals – from the deluge the Creator will rain down upon the earth. Now burdened with glorious purpose, the psychological strain placed on this mortal man begins to surface and soon Noah is torn between what he feels he is being asked to do, and what he feels he should do. One thing is clear from the off, this isn’t the story you heard in Sunday School.
Fears arise early on when certain liberties are taken with the universally well known tale, and the film becomes sort of unintentionally hilarious at points. Whether you believe in it or not, I’m fairly certain no version of the Bible has giant rock monsters in it, even if they are the film’s interpretation of fallen angels. It’s at this point you have to realise that certain gaps in the story have had to have been filled in to make it more cinematic (it appears to have been given an almost Lord of the Rings style makeover) but once you do the additions become less glaring and you’re able to settle into the world of the film and the story it is telling. And what a world. Filled with elements both wondrous and terrifying, from a utterly beautiful montage detailing creation to the camp of the cannibalistic followers of Tubal-Cain, (Ray Winstone) this biblical landscape is fully fleshed out and believable within the realms of the film.
It’s more than halfway through the film when SPOILER the flood actually arrives but it’s a testament (see what I did there?) to the actors involved that everything pre-flood is as riveting as it is after, setting up allegiances and familial fractures that will erupt when enclosed in the Ark. Crowe is nothing less than amazing in the role, which requires him to be both hero and villain at various points of the story. He is a magnetic presence during the early scenes filled with determination to build the Ark, and equally mesmerising later when he is determined to do whatever it takes to fulfil his interpretation of The Creator’s wishes, even if that takes him down a murderous path. Yet he remains fundamentally the same man throughout and the internal struggle and world weariness is etched on Crowe’s – impressively bearded – face. The arc (sorry, I’ll stop now) that Noah goes on is the crux of the film and Crowe is more than up to the task. The rest of the cast are fine if underwritten; the ever brilliant Jennifer Connolly seems stuck with the worried wife/slightly clumsy moral compass role, and while Emma Watson and Ray Winstone are great also they’re merely plot devices to drive a (contrived) wedge between Noah and his sons.
The director also reveals a hitherto untapped knack for directing action with scenes of battle, as Tubal-Cain’s armies launch an assault on the Ark as the rains begin, rivalling scenes in your more standard fantasy blockbuster for sheer ambition. However while they’re exciting, they’re wholly unnecessary as the story works fine without an action beat thrown in for the sake of it. Could have done without the Old Testament Transformers though.
Directed with his usual visual flair (with echoes of one of his previous films, The Fountain), Noah shows that Aronofsky is just as at home with big budget epics as he is with more personal, smaller scale films. Yet when it comes down to it, that’s what Noah is at heart; perhaps the most personal – and oddly the most accessible – of the director’s filmography even while waters rage and God and angels are involved, universal themes of free will, family, loyalty and sacrifice are front and centre.
Simultaneously brutally brilliant, achingly beautiful and utterly bonkers.
Review by Jonathan Cardwell.
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