By Will Ashton | firstname.lastname@example.org| @thewillofash
Noah | Directed by Darren Aronofsky | Rated PG-13
Now, I’m going to keep my own religious views out of this review as much as humanly possible, but I will say that the uprising of Christian films is a somewhat noble but also rather heavy-handed effort by the right wing. I mean, I’m fine with having Christian movies, but so many of them feel phony, filled to the bone with over sentimentality and forced emotional efforts at the audience’s heartstrings.
That said, though, Noah, the latest religious film to come in the theaters, is thankfully not that.
Do I really need to go into a plot synopsis? I feel like everyone, Christian, Catholic or not, knows the story of Noah’s Ark by now. If, by some chance, you don’t know the story, it’s about a guy who must build a giant ark as God plans to flood the world and wipe out humanity as it knows it.
Even in his bigger budget endeavors, Darren Aronofsky has never been one to trend lightly in his films. All of his features feature dark elements in them, even The Wrestler, his most grounded film to date, and while promotional materials for Noah looked like it may not be the case, it is no different. Particularly when the film makes its way into its second and third acts, the film is not afraid to look at the darkness that delved in the Old Testament, and I not only respect Aronofsky for getting away with as much as he does in a PG-13 film, but I think it makes for a better film.
The tale of Noah’s Ark is such an oddly compelling chapter in the Bible mainly because of all the stakes that encompass it. It is about, literally, the death of 99.9% of the world. As a result, there is a ton of dramatic potential to not only study what these characters go through emotionally, but also why God would want to do such a thing and how evil the world has gotten. Thankfully, Aronofsky isn’t afraid to explore these aspects and, thus, when searching at the dark underbelly of this timeless tale, it is able to bring new light into this story.
Which is to say that, when Noah does something well, it does it really well. There are segments of this film that are just brilliantly done, including one in particular about the creation of the world. It not only features some of the most unique artistic choices that I have seen in a big budget blockbuster in some time, but it makes for a compelling example of how Bible films don’t have to be so watered down and safe.
I mean, besides The Passion of the Christ and The Last Temptation of Christ (I assume, I actually haven’t seen it yet…yeah, yeah, I know), most Christian movies play it as safe as possible. And it’s not hard to see why, as Christians are the most sensitive audiences there are in America. But it is interesting, and deeply refreshing, when a film like Noah comes around to bring some adult integrity and imagination in an adaption.
And I think that is the key word here: adaptation. Not retelling, adaptation. I fear that the primary audiences, at least some of them, are going to reject this movie based solely on the fact that it is not a direct adaptation of the Bible. Which is a shame, because there is a lot that Aronofsky is saying about not just religion, but human nature with this movie. It is often a fascinating and compelling look at how these figures of Sunday School class can become such adult and dark characters.
That said, however, Noah is not a flawless film. Perhaps it was because Darren often had to go out of his comfort zone, but there are some sequences, most of which are towards the beginning, that just don’t quite work. It’s not so much the acting or anything wrong in particular, but they encompass a sense of hokiness and odd plotting that don’t gain the emotional crunch they want or desire.
Additionally, there are plot points in the third act of the film that, without giving anything away, don’t really feel fully flushed out. In particular, the story behind Noah’s son Ham (Logan Lerman) introduces some interesting plot points, but never quite picks up speed. Even worse, it leads to one of the sillier side plots of the film before its climax.
With that said, though, a big component in the success of this film are the performances of the cast. Aronofsky has always been a good director of actors and, while I had my doubts about Russell Crowe being cast as the title character, I must admit that he did a commendable job. Much like Tom Cruise and George Clooney, Crowe has always struck me as one of those actors that, no matter how good they are, I never quite forget it’s them. They all have given good to fine performances in the past, but I don’t forget who’s playing them.
But, in Noah, Crowe, although he hasn’t had the greatest track record of late, brings a lot of subtle emotional depth to the character. Noah is a complex character, and through his restrained performance, he gives a strong, compelling performance, and probably his best in some time.
Also good here is Noah’s wife Naameh, played by Jennifer Connelly. Which, if you are paying attention, is indeed A Beautiful Mind reunion. Although the make up team fails at aging her in any way, shape or form for some reason, she also provides an emotionally charged performance as the title character’s better half. Also given a lot to do here is Ray Winstone as the villain Tubal-cain. Many actors would take his character and push it too far, but Winstone is able to make his performance a fire breathing one, but one that makes a great deal of sense too. He is compelling grounded in such a hyper real situation.
There are undeniably some haunting beautiful moments in Noah, and, as one of my favorite directors working today, I’m so glad that Aronofsky finally was able to make his passion project. I don’t think it’s a full out success as his last two movies were, but it’s a grand, sweeping effort that actually has the balls to push the envelope in a way that so few religious movies do. It may not win the core audience over, but it sure as hell impresses me, and I’ll be damned if I didn’t enjoy the wild, dark vision Aronofsky had of this classic tale.