A Bible epic? Aronofsky directing? Cover your butts.
2014 is looking like it’s the year of the Bible epic. With the already maligned Son of God out in theaters and Ridley Scott’s Exodus due this fall, it seems like this is the new trend that is hitting our theaters at the moment. And now, Noah is the next one in the spotlight. To start, the film Noah is about…well, Noah. If you’ve ever opened a Bible in your life (or even skimmed the Cliffsnotes) you’d know that Noah is…what the hell am I even doing? I don’t even need to explain the plot to you. This is one of the earliest stories known to mankind. If, you somehow have never been exposed to this story, look it up on Wikipedia because I’m not providing a synopsis this time! That’s right, I’m tired as hell right now and I want to cart this thing off before I hit the sack. I leave for DC tomorrow and I’ll be damned if I…
Sorry about that, folks. My inner Mel Gibson decided to come out in the middle of this thing (heh). Anyway, so Noah is directed by Darren Aronofsky, a director who has put out some very interesting works over his career. If you are unfamiliar with Aronofsky, watch Requiem for a Dream, or The Fountain, or The Wrestler, or Black Swan. You’ll quickly find out that he has a very unique visual style and is considered to be one of the most controversial directors working in Hollywood today. His films have often concentrated on bleak subject matter and are all very violent, with Requiem for a Dream having scarred half of Reddit for life, if you know what I’m talking about (aside from Lars von Trier’s Antichrist). To see Aronofsky directing something as straightforward as a Bible story is a little confusing, given the man’s focus on rather…um, unique subjects. But when I put words like “Bible” and “straightforward” I’m automatically setting myself up for a fallacy in reason (somewhere in there) so it probably doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. Noah definitely has Aronofsky’s signature touch to the whole thing with some of the visuals being quite astonishing. There is your obligatory “creation scene” but it is done in such a way that is fantastic to behold…but if you’re prone to seizures you might want to close your eyes.
The film does take several liberties with its source material (no comment on how this applies in real life) by giving development to a few characters considered to be minor in the Bible. The bulk of this development goes into Noah’s family. Jennifer Connelly plays Noah’s wife and she does…an okay job. She isn’t great, she isn’t terrible but there is one scene that Connelly seemed to be having a bad day on and it made me cringe. Logan Lerman (Percy Jackson) and Douglas Booth play Noah’s eldest sons and they, in the scope of the film, aren’t really that interesting. Both are relatively flat as characters, their acting not really compensating, and Booth just stands out as the guy’s skin is visually flawless and he keeps on puffing his lips out as if he’s kissing every single object on screen (I don’t think he will last long, folks.) Anthony Hopkins plays Noah’s grandfather and despite getting his name heavily advertised, the man is only in the film for what seems like ten minutes. He is an important character so he does get some good scenes. Emma Watson plays Noah’s adopted daughter Ila, which is probably going to be the biggest draw for lovestruck single men for this film. Ila, as a character, gets a lot of development. Ila, throughout the movie, has to deal with the issue of being barren (caused from a childhood injury) when the world is collapsing around them and the fact that humans need to reproduce to survive is looming in front of her, and she is unable to do anything about it. Watson does an admirable job with the character…but, sorry Potter fans, she still doesn’t have what it takes to roll in the big leagues. Damn shame.
Noah is played by Russell “Fightin’ Round the World” Crowe in…Noah. This Noah is a far different animal from anything you could have imagined. He plays a visually tortured character, having to live with the knowledge that he is one of the last people on earth, and that he is responsible for carrying out his Creator’s will. The man also jumps into combat to protect his family; he uses spears and his fists to ward off unsavory humans that try to perch on his ark. It’s a very realistic approach to a man who is torn between his duty to his faith and his duty to his family.
The film is generally very different from how I pictured it would be. In my head, I imagined that around the time that Noah lived, mankind was still very primitive in its societal approach. In this film, man has been shown to have built cities, created armor, weapons, and even a version of a flare gun at one point. There are several spiritual approaches that work phenomenally within the film as well. The most distinct being the use of the “Watchers,” fallen angels punished by the Creator for interfering with man by encasing them in rock. Their design is very cool and original and they get some of the best scenes in the film. A good example is when they’re about to attack Noah because they themselves have lost their faith in man, a spring starts bubbling up around them and the Watchers watch in awe as a miracle happens in front of their eyes. And with that, they help Noah build his ark, summarily being given their faith back. It’s the moments like these that make the film work and are very powerful to behold.
In terms of content, let’s just say that I’m quite surprised this film got away with a PG-13 rating. This movie is brutal. There are several scenes where men get killed or maimed, and they can get very gruesome. A steel trap through a leg, an exposed broken bone after a fight, a graphically twisted leg, the list goes on. There are multiple shots of animals getting disemboweled so if you have someone who is an animal lover, chances are that they’re going to be upset after watching this film. There’s also a childbirth scene (which I don’t like to watch) and is very dramatic and unsettling when you consider the circumstances surrounding the event. The whole tone of the film is very dark and nerve-wracking. It isn’t going to be an easy slog for someone not familiar with Aronofsky’s body of work, and even that still might be uncomfortable.
In terms of the effects, the destruction of the world is handled quite well…even though if it is shorter than you’d expect. This cataclysmic event happens a little more than halfway through the film which means that the next act slows the hell down. The pace eventually picks back up but you will be checking your watch at some point to see if there is any more left to the film. For film score fans, Clint Mansell returns as Aronofsky’s usual collaborator, and I have to say, the man has put out his best work in years. I haven’t had a chance to listen to his output since Mass Effect 3 and Noah gives Mansell a chance to create a score of epic proportions while still containing his significant methodology combined with the brilliant Kronos String Quartet. It’s his best work in ages and one of my favorites since Sahara.
In short, I really appreciated this movie for what it was. It took several gambles to bring this story to the screen and most of them paid off handsomely. Despite the few niggling acting problems, the sheer scope and design of the film combined with a few twists in the plot keep it from getting too boring while paying respect to the source material. It is quite a powerful experience seeing it on the big screen and it is a film that I would recommend to anyone who has respect for the story, but I would also advise that you’d be cautious as the violent nature of the film might be a little off-setting for some. I’d wager that a few might not want to get into a pool anytime soon……
Final score: 85/100