Film review: NOAH, from Built For Speed

Noah begins with a potted history of the Old Testament that is strikingly reminiscent of the opening scenes in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.  That sequence sets the tone for the film, as this interpretation of the story of Noah, the Ark and the flood that wiped out humanity, plays like a Tolkien action-fantasy.

To help those unfamiliar with the story of Noah – which occupies a very small part of the King James Bible – the film brings us up to speed.  We learn that Noah’s lineage can be traced back through Methuselah, Seth and the murdered Able amongst other biblical figures, to Adam.  Noah (Russell Crowe) is said to be the only man who embodies Adam’s untainted virtues while the rest of humanity (Adam’s family aside) are the vile corrupt and savage descendants of the murderous Cain who are now led by Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone).  After some disturbing dreams and drug-induced premonitions courtesy of Noah’s pop Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins), Noah learns of God’s (or the Creator as he is referred to here) plan to unleash an all-consuming flood, annihilate humanity and rid the world of Cain’s spawn.  To preserve and later repopulate the animal kingdom, two of each kind of beast is allowed a ticket on the vast ark Noah and his family construct.

There have already been outcries about the liberties this film takes with the story of Noah.  Apparently Noah’s story has been compiled from a vast number of documents and scriptures so it is not a simple matter to identify a definitive version of his life.  While we can respect the importance of this story to people of faith and their alarm about it being misinterpreted and tinkered with, our concern here is with the quality of filmmaking and whether the film stands alone as a piece of cinematic art? The answer, in short, is…almost.

One aspect that will horrify some and have others doubled over with laughter is the depiction of the Watchers, who in the Old Testament were angels sent to watch over man.  Their appearance was uncertain in the Bible but in this film they look like a cross between the rock monster from Galaxy Quest and the Ents from Lord of the Rings.  The computer animation of these creatures is very clunky and the sight of them lumbering across the fields of Nephilim shoots a large hole in the film’s credibility.

Rock monsters aside, director Darren Aronofsky has fashioned a visually stunning film with spectacular set-pieces including the convergence of vast hordes of creatures on the ark, the calamitous floods obliterating humanity and a staggeringly trippy time-lapse history of the universe that recalls Ludovico’s treatment in A Clockwork Orange and will leave just about any cinema-goer gobsmacked.

A big name cast delivers mixed but mostly impressive performances. Who else but Russell Crowe could play Noah; his stern countenance and powerful rumbling voice have an appropriately biblical air. He’s a little stiff and pompous at times but Crowe still captures Noah’s shifting personality from noble and obedient servant of God to (as suggested in this film) potential murderer.  Oddly, though, Aronofsky seems to have capitulated to modern audiences’ addiction to screen violence by making Noah a two-fisted action hero who frequently punches the snot out of various savages who try to foil Noah’s plans to escape in the Ark.  Also perplexing are Noah’s costumes which look oddly contemporary if shabby like Mugatu’s Derelicte collection from Zoolander. 

Jennifer Connelly is fine as always but is once again not given a sufficiently substantially role to make her character Naameh particularly memorable. Emma Watson is still developing as an actor as she moves away from Hermione but is a compelling and sympathetic as Noah’s daughter in law Ila.  As a confused teen struggling to cope with his Father’s demands, Logan Lerman as Noah’s son Ham, adds an interesting contemporary angle to this biblical story.  Ray Winstone adds an ill-advised comic element to proceedings as he sounds like a cockney geezer and gets around in leather armour and a Catweezle beard.

Creating a straight-faced biblical epic in this post-modern cinematic environment would seem like a recipe for ridicule but Darren Aronofsky does not seem like a director who shies away from a challenge.  Despite some unintentionally ridiculous moments, he has fashioned in Noah a visually striking and occasionally intense piece of cinema.

Nick’s rating: ***

Genre: Biblical adaptation/ drama.

Classification: M.

Director(s):  Darren Aronofsky.

Release date: 27th March 2014

Running time: 139 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. 

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