Noah (United States, 2014)

March 28, 2014
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Noah Poster

It has been a number of years since I have read the story of Noah in "Genesis" but I'm reasonably certain there are some discrepancies between the canonical account and the one related by director Darren Aronofsky in his new movie, Noah. For example, I don't recall there being a big War of the Rings-style battle between "Watchers" and hoards of men. And there isn’t anything in the Bible about a feudal warlord stowing away on the ark and launching a mutiny. Although Aronofsky's take on the character of Noah is fascinating - he becomes a rigidly self-righteous man wracked with survivor's guilt - the movie as a whole is a mixed bag. It's overlong and a times sluggish. The fights and battles, designed to give an epic fantasy feel to the movie, are grave miscalculations. And the overabundance of CGI often makes Noah look like a video game.

The movie begins with a brief recap of the Old World - how Adam and Eve's fall in the Garden led to the wickedness of Noah's time. Aronofsky never uses the term "God" to describe the deity; instead, he uses the appellation of "The Creator." Noah (Russell Crowe), who is descended through the line of Seth (rather than Cain), is deemed to be the only righteous man. After experiencing apocalyptic visions, he seeks advice from his grandfather, Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins), a doddering old man who craves freshly picked berries. Methuselah drugs Noah and he experiences more visions. After this, he becomes convinced that The Creator is preparing the wipe clean the slate in a massive flood and he has to build an ark to save the animals. The current king of the land, Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone), doesn't like Noah's defiance and decides to take the ark by force. Noah, however, has supernatural allies - fallen angels called "Watchers" who look like the Stone Giants in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and fight against Tubal-cain's followers as the rains arrive.

Aronofsky's telling of Noah's story can be seen as an environmental allegory: human beings defile the world; The Creator purges the stain. Noah's prevailing belief is that men and women do not deserve to survive. In his view, the only reason he and his family are to be spared is so they can do their duty and shepherd the animals to safety. Repopulation is not on the agenda. The only surviving woman of child-bearing age, his adopted daughter Ila (Emma Watson), is barren. Once Noah, his wife (Jennifer Connelly), his three sons, and Ila die, the human race is destined to perish. Even in the face of an apparent miracle, his rigid determination doesn't waver.

Aronofsky's decision to include big special effects-laden battle scenes is curious at best and disastrous at worst. These sequences, presumably included to make the film more visually spectacular, lapse into lethargy because there's no real sense of tension or danger. We know Noah is going to get the ark underway. We don't care about any of the CGI characters involved. It's just eye candy. This raises larger questions about the pacing. At 138 minutes, Noah is too long; there are stretches when it drags.

Russell Crowe provides a fascinating interpretation of the title character. Every other depiction I have encountered of Noah presents him as a humble, pious man. Crowe's Noah is a warrior. He kills more than his share of the unrighteous. He is intractable in his belief that humanity has earned its fate. And, when the journey is over and the ark has come to rest in the purified world, he is overcome by despair. Irrespective of whether or not the character of Noah is being used as a commentary on modern-day religious zealots who believe they have a monopoly on "the truth," it's a fascinating and unconventional interpretation of an iconic individual.

It may be that Aronofsky's vision for Noah has outstripped his ability to deliver. Parts of the film hint at potential greatness, but the strengths are undone at least in part by some of the glaring weaknesses. The bizarre decision to turn parts of this tale into a Lord of the Rings-inspired epic fantasy make for some head-scratching moments and the uneven pacing might provoke some restlessness. Those seeking a respectful, religiously-slanted interpretation will fall somewhere on the spectrum of "disappointed" to "outraged." Aronofsky has mentioned that this is not intended to be a biblical movie. In distancing his Noah from its source material and using the "Genesis" account as a jumping-off point, the director has succeeded. It's in other, more basic cinematic areas that he has fallen short.

Noah (United States, 2014)

Run Time: 2:18
U.S. Release Date: 2014-03-28
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1