Mark Reviews Movies

Noah

NOAH

3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Darren Aronofsky

Cast: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, Douglas Booth, Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, Leo McHugh Carroll, the voices of Nick Nolte, Frank Langella

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for violence, disturbing images and brief suggestive content)

Running Time: 2:11

Release Date: 3/28/14


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Review by Mark Dujsik | March 27, 2014

Noah is steeped in tradition of the religious and fantastical varieties. It is respectful of the tale from the Bible while taking enough risks and liberties in expanding the foundational story to create a world and scenario that both enrich the content and make the story feel like a distinct entity that stands apart from the established narrative. In other words, if one is of the religious persuasion, that person will find exactly the message they anticipate here; if one is not, that person will still discover a relatable groundwork for the story.

We expect that a film based on a story from Genesis might start with "In the beginning," but here, co-writer/director Darren Aronofsky gives us that setup twice. First he imagines it as a piece of theater—in tableaux with a backdrop of sky with colors much bolder than appear in nature.

For the most part, it's representational the first time, and then those scenes are expanded upon the second time. In this instance, it's more literal, with the six days of creation orally related and visually explained. The beginning is darkness, and then there is the Big Bang, and the camera pushes through the universe to the forming, molten mass of Earth. "Days" are millions or billions of years, and as the creatures of the planet enter the telling, they progress in a time-lapse sequence of evolution from one-celled organisms in the water to mammals crawling on dry land. Humans have their own origin, appearing in a golden glow amidst the earthly paradise of Eden.

Cain slays Abel in silhouette the first time, and later they change forms as soldiers killing each other throughout history. As Noah (Russell Crowe) discusses his vision from "the Creator" of a drowned Earth to his wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), the two appear in the same motif as their ancestors—in shadow against a dark blue sky.  They now belong to the same story. These are daring sequences not only for how out-of-character with the rest of the film they are but also for how they blur the lines of science and religion—history and legend.

The story proper begins with a young Noah, the last remaining in the line of Adam and Eve's son Seth, witnessing the murder of his father at the hands of the leader of the ancestral tribe of Cain. The generations-old conflict between the two tribes is an age-old one: The posterity of Cain believes humankind holds dominion over the Earth and its resources; the line of Seth believes they are stewards of creation. The progeny of Cain, fueled by a mineral that emits energy, has overtaken the globe in a collection of industrial cities.

As an adult, Noah, the father of three sons, has his vision and seeks out his grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins) to discover its meaning. The answer to the riddle of the submerged earth is a massive ark to hold two of each species of animal in the world, restarting the natural course of Earth while human being perish in a great flood.

The biggest liberty of the screenplay (by Aronofsky and Ari Handel) is the insertion of fallen angels called "Watchers," who chose to come to Earth to protect humanity after its expulsion from Eden. They are giants composed of rock and mud, with four arms and faces contorted into a gnarled version of the tragedy mask—a visage of perpetual sadness for those with no place in the Creator's universe. They may appear out of place, but there's a biblical basis for these creatures. Really, though, their purpose is one of necessity. They answer the question of how Noah and his small family construct a gigantic ark and also serve as the family's guardians.

The film fills in something of a logical gap in the story. If there is to be a watery apocalypse intended to wash away all of humanity, surely there would be other humans determined to survive. They arrive led by Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone), the king of the great cities of Cain's descendants, and want their place on the ark before the rains begin to fall and geysers of water erupt from the ground. Within the family, there are divides, primarily on the part Noah's son Ham (Logan Lerman), who is jealous of his brother Shem's (Douglas Booth) romance with Ila (Emma Watson) and resentful of his father's apprehension in finding a wife for his middle son.

That the film becomes far less ambitious in its aims after the flood waters rise is to be expected, given the reduced scope of the world with which to work, but Aronofsky and Handel accommodate this shift by putting the focus squarely on Noah's attempt to determine exactly what his and his family's role as the sole survivors of humanity (save for one unanticipated stowaway, who—forgotten often and disposed of quite easily—serves no purpose but for unnecessary external conflict). When he has chosen the path he believes the Creator wants him to follow, it becomes an all-consuming obsession to fulfill it no matter what the consequences may be. Crowe, whose character is a tool of forces around him for the film's first two acts, is both frightening and sympathetic in his portrayal of what ultimately amounts to religious fanaticism.

This is a fine film that is as much about the struggles with and consequences of faith as it is the recounting of a religious tale. Noah may not subscribe to a single outlook on this story, but it definitely knows how to blend its inspirations into a unified vision.

Copyright © 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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