When Darren Aronofsky signed up to make Noah, a movie about one of the most famous tales in the history of mankind, sourced straight from one of the most famous stories ever told, the Holy Bible itself, he wasn’t signing up for any ordinary project. I’m sure he was well aware of what he was getting himself into. I tried to avoid other critics on this one, because any story like this is sure to spark controversy, and generate some hate. He opted to take a religion-neutral approach to the material, attaching no specific faith to the mythology, but how good is the actual film?
Noah (Russell Crowe) is a man living off the land with his wife (Jennifer Connelly) and three children (including Emma Watson), avoiding the industrialization and conquest that is taking place around the world. But when a message from ‘The Creator’ prompts him to prepare for a great flood, one which he has been chosen to survive, he sets off on the legendary task of creating an ark and taking two of every creature on board. However, outside forces, and his own internal struggles with the sacrifices he’s asked to make, threaten to tear him and possibly humanity apart.
I was intrigued to watch this film for a number of reasons, but unfortunately my expecting it to be a really good film was pretty low on this list, if not completely non-existent. I love Darren Aronofsky, but for whatever reason this just seemed like an odd choice, and an unnecessary one. I wanted to see it because it sparked controversy, it is a new take on a classic tale, and it got generally positive but polarizing reviews. Having watched it now, I actually think I fall on the positive side of that polar scale, and I think I just saw a pretty good movie through all the other ‘stuff.’
The cast was intriguing and Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly definitely seemed like the obvious and perfect choices. Especially Crowe. That almost worried me in a strange way, that it might be too much same old same old, but Crowe was incredible I thought, and Connelly was also amazing in a subtly done role, where she was pretty quiet throughout but had one or two moments of complete and powerful brilliance. The ‘children’ were serviceable, and Emma Watson (who I thought was going to be a horrible choice) was actually really, really good in the film. She flexed her muscles a little bit. Throw in Ray Winston as a manic army leader bad guy, and Anthony Hopkins as a wise old grandfather, and you’ve got a wonderfully acted movie. The acting is important in a movie like this, because ‘Fantasy epics’ always run the risk of being hard to take seriously, if the balance isn’t just right. On this occasion, I thought they nailed it.
The plot itself is one that we all know very well, even if we aren’t religious folks. The question for me was always, how close would Aronofsky stick to the Bible, and how would he make such a story his own and make it fit with the blockbuster audience it’s budget demanded. Well, the answer turned out to be very interesting. All in all, the main points of the original tale remain fairly well intact. However, in order to make one of the Bible’s most difficult to believe stories believable, he made some subtle alterations and took some poetic license. In many cases this worked. For example some of the family dynamics between Noah and his children, as well as their need for wives (a need which was never a need in the Bible, but a huge part of the story here) added a massive amount of drama to the proceedings, and while they weren’t true to the text, some of the scenes that grew from it were truly GRIPPING. The ‘Cain’ descendent character, played by Winstone, was great, but largely added as filler to create a more audience friendly bad guy, and a few fight scenes. I didn’t mind it, but it may have been unnecessary.
My biggest criticism was in his choice to take the concept of ‘The Watchers’ from the Bible and use them in his story. He made them appear as giant rock creatures. This just didn’t work for me. It looked stupid. I understand why he did it. It was kind of environmental, and in order to move the story and get the ark created, they had to be there, because clearly Noah’s family couldn’t do it without some sort of giant machinery. It wasn’t the end of the world, but it killed a little of the film’s credibility for me.
I was expecting something a little slow as well. A methodical, slow moving epic, with some sparks of action and special effects brilliance. But in actual fact, once the pace picks up, the drama comes thick and fast. The film, believe it or not, had me on the edge of my seat for much of it. However, a lot of this was within the smaller scenes that were added for dramatic value, involving Noah’s disputes with his family or enemy, or his struggles with the task at hand. The actual story of the Ark almost seemed like just a platform for some great drama. I am not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing, as many would love the attention to be on the Ark and the religious side, but it’s just my opinion. I was cool with it.
One of the things Aronofsky said is that this was his least religious movie ever, which I think is an interesting claim. His films have certainly has spiritual themes, and with this one it seems bold for him to claim that it was not religiously themed. Whatever the truth is, I thought it worked. There were a variety of themes in there. The idea of God (although a god is never actually named) as ‘The Creator’, the Environmentalist and nature vs man-made themes, the idea of blind faith, good vs evil and humanity itself. It’s all in there, and presented really well and in a way that manages to be thoughtful and provocative, without being too in your face or one sided. It even manages to do so despite the surfaces big budget special effects and scope. While it isn’t perfect, not many directors can claim to have pulled it off.
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised with Darren Aronofsky’s take on Noah. It was provocative, well acted, interesting and even when it got a little ‘Hollywood’ (which wasn’t all that often), there were times when the film was downright gripping. The last half hour in particularly, had me on the edge of my seat, and whether you agree with their take on the tale itself, or it’s themes, as a pure cinematic experience, I thought it was great.