Cinema review: Noah



Russell Crowe stars in the Hollywood blockbuster based on a biblical tale.

By Jaskaran Bahia

The sublime and the ridiculous battle it out in an ambitious take on the biblical tale.

Noah might be the least conventional $100million-plus blockbuster ever made. It doesn’t follow the traditional three act structure. The protagonist is intensely unlikeable for large portions of the film. It is ambitious in ways beyond just being just a massive epic. It is also a complete, unashamed, and largely worthwhile, mess.

We begin with screen text prologue more akin to The Lord of The Rings than biblical epics of old, helping us realise just what kind of take director Darren Aronofsky is going for. The fantasy tone is highlighted further by the appearance of Henson-esque rock monsters. The film may lose some here – they are undeniably silly – but the metaphor behind them works, in the same way the metaphor of saving two of every animal from a flood, works. At least the film is committed to its oddities.

The tension between the brilliantly off-kilter and the absolutely absurd is present in all of the film’s disparate elements. Beyond the rock monsters, this might be best shown in Ray Winstone’s villain, Tubal-Cain. His character contains some interesting depth: an antagonist who is the defender of mankind, who gets the big hero speech, who lances monster’s hearts, whose gripes have some legitimacy, who… bites the heads off sleeping animals. Just so we’re reminded he’s the villain. As if all the snarling wasn’t enough.

The second half of the film takes a sharp left out of fantasy and into family drama. This allows Aronofsky to indulge in his pet theme of the dangerously obsessed individual risking everything for their goal. He even uses one of his trademark over-the-shoulder shots, so effective in placing us in his characters heads, previously. Yet, here, it doesn’t quite work. Somehow, the tension and emotion he has built a career on slips into suffocating melodrama.

The Fountain is probably Noah’s easiest comparison point in Aronofsky’s filmography. They are both concerned with the biggest questions we face as a species. But Noah is too muddy and dull to match The Fountain’s sumptuous visuals, except in individual moments. It is too didactic to match the earlier film’s depth. The halves are too disjointed to build to a truly satisfying finish, especially when considering how skilfully The Fountain’s three threads were weaved together. Where The Fountain was divisive for it’s ambition, Noah is divisive because it is divided.

There are elements where we can still see that Aronofsky is one of Hollywood’s most talented. He has always wrangled compelling performances from his actors. Russell Crowe appears more engaged than he has been in several years, while Jennifer Connelly provides the film with its much needed heart. Emma Watson also acquits herself well and Anthony Hopkins gives his Methuselah a charming, light touch.

Approximately halfway through we are treated to a retelling of the creation story, complete with a scientifically accurate montage of images. It’s a stunning sequence, like something Terrence Malik might produce if he were a member of the MTV Generation, and helps clarify why Aronofsky was so intent on this story – it certainly does not lack for scope.

One area the film does harken back to classic epics is in Clint Mansell’s bombastic score. It makes his gorgeous, evocative work on The Fountain look subtle by comparison. It soars and reaches for big emotions, occasionally overstepping its mark, but more often hitting perfectly.

Noah is both failure and success, the least of Aronofsky’s oevre, even as he gets away with the most, providing moments of beauty in almost equal measure with moments of ludicrousness. It is committed to a vision and that much, at least, should be applauded.

Noah is now showing at ODEON Wimbledon, Wimbledon Piazza

Photo courtesy of FilmTrailerStation, with thanks.

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