Starring: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, Emma Watson, and Nick Nolte
“In the beginning, there was nothing.” So starts the new $130 million epic Noah, directed by Darren Aronofsky and starring Russell Crowe. The film comes at an interesting point in Aronofsky’s career. Interesting in that he has dipped his big toe in big budget movies before. At one point or another, Aronofsky was attached to direct this year’s Robocop reboot, last year’s The Wolverine, and 2005’s Batman Begins. The man has an interesting flux to his career, and while I have never seen much more in his work than pretension and style, he has a vision that studios have been trying to get on their side for at least a decade. However, after giving these studios the proverbial middle finger for as long as he could handle, Aronofsky has finally caved. Armed with Crowe in the lead and a supporting cast good enough to hold any production afloat, we have Noah. An astonishing epic that walks an incredibly risky line between being pathologically mythic and provocatively ambitious, I would venture to say that Noah is Aronofsky’s most satisfying film to date.
It is an incredibly bold move to base an entire film around a concept that involves the guaranteed scrutiny of the ever deadly religious right. But Aronofsky does an almost masterful job of making Noah centered around a man who doesn’t know his way or his purpose in the world that has been destroyed around him. He sets the film up by showing Noah hunting and living with his family, always waking up to beautiful sunsets. By doing this, Aronofsky balances outlined apocryphal biblical narratives with staging the inner conflict that the title character feels later on in the film.
Speaking of the title character, I would be remiss if I did not mention just how impressed I was with Crowe’s performance. The man has not done this well a job of inner personalizing a character since his role in The Next Three Days five years ago, and it was tough to not feel his hurt and anguish in the later stages of the film. It’s hard playing someone fantasizing about killing all remaining human beings in the world, including your two newborn granddaughters, and still come off as someone worth rooting for. But Crowe, in all his gruff, pulls it off. Another performance that is well worth pointing out is that of Watson. As Ila, wife of Shem, Watson exudes a sense of warmth and likability that was only touched upon in 2012’s Perks of Being A Wallflower. Everyone else is either fair or not even worth mentioning. Not because they were bad necessarily. But in a nearly two and a half hour epic journey that mostly revolves around the title character, it is tough to find time and characters to flesh out IN that time. Connelly’s role as Noah’s wife Naameh springs immediately to mind.
What is also worth noting are the incredible spectacular special effects Noah has. The Watchers (rock monsters who are actually trapped angels that sympathized with Adam and Eve) are cleverly designed and pulled off in a way that doesn’t come off as shoe-horned in (I’m looking at you, 300), with their inclusion actually flowing with Noah’s narrative. Aronofsky’s battle scenes in this portion are surprisingly wondrous, as he directs them with a sleight of hand that would look just as good in any Lord of the Rings film. When the big flood and mission of the ark initially come to Noah, it is from sheer hallucinogenic dreams. So we know they are coming. But once that flood hits, it starts with a mutter and ends with a tantalizing bang. The CGI is seamless, and I don’t think there has been something that left me in such amazement in quite a while. Its aftermath is the main crux of the story, and Aronofsky (along with his co-writer Ari Handel) give Noah just as many character driven layers as he did with both Nina Sayers (Black Swan) and Randy The Ram (The Wrestler).
With Noah, Aronofsky has finally crossed the line of credibility without an over high view of himself with me. With the exception of The Wrestler, I have never been able to fully enjoy his films (though, in fairness, I realize they are not necessarily meant to enjoy). However, with Noah, Aronofsky has made a film that feels less self-serving and actually tells a story. It doesn’t ask you to question your own moralities, or wonder whether there really is no escape from a world full of sin and pollution. The word ‘God’ is never muttered in the film, and I almost take that as a sign that Aronofsky is finally able to look at himself as less an important filmmaker than storyteller trying to stake his claim as the most talented anti-establishment director out there.