Just as the Bible speaks in many ways to many people, so does Darren Aronofsky’s epic “Noah,” a story about a man, his giant ark and the lengths a family will go to when facing the world’s first apocalypse.
Tackling a story of pre-apocalyptic earth in the before and after stages is nothing new, but Aronofsky knew that he had to pull out all the stops in dealing with the planet’s first biblical disaster. Luckily, he had Russell Crowe to work with. After a brief but eye-catching history lesson (via fast motion) from the time of creation through the questionable dietary choices in the Garden of Eden, to the slaying of Abel by Cain, we arrive at the tenth generation of man, where a young Noah (Dakota Goyo) witnesses his father being killed just as he is about to bestow his birthright, a glowing snakeskin sleeve, upon him.
Years later, an adult Noah (Crowe) is living a happy but isolated life with his wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) and three sons, Ham (Logan Lerman), Shem (Douglas Booth) and Japheth (Leo Carroll). But if life (and Twitter 3:16) has taught us anything, it’s that you can avoid people, but not their mistakes. Noah receives a vision, one of great death by flooding. The Creator (The “G-word” is never said in the film) has decided that his experiment with mankind has gone completely off the rails, as everyone is a poster child for the worse sins imaginable against the planet and themselves.
Unfortunately, visions aren’t the same as having a phone call, Skype or even text messages, so Noah seeks out clarification from his granddad Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins). Thanks to his guidance, and getting slipped a mickey, Noah gets a clearer vision: the planet is about to be destroyed by a flood. He is to construct a giant ark with a sample of the planet’s animals and witness the first-ever heavenly version of a reboot. Aiding him in his quest is Ila (Emma Watson), an injured orphan girl who becomes his adopted daughter and love interest of Shem. He’s also greatly assisted by fallen angels turned giant stone creatures called the Watchers, who also sinned against the Creator and seek redemption.
The story of Noah doesn’t take up a lot of space in the Bible, so creative license was a given. But that creativity doesn’t mean cinematic blasphemy. Aronofsky, along with co-writer Ari Handel (“The Fountain”), manage to create a world based on the story of Noah, while filling in some of the factual gaps that even theologians have struggled with. Aronofsky the director paints a picture where man is a lost cause, and one family has to suffer the burden and the consequences.
As is becoming a staple with Aronofsky films, casting takes center stage, and Crowe gives such a riveting performance as the chosen one nearly driven mad by doing the job of the almighty that you wonder if they ever bothered to audition anyone else. His transformation from loving father and husband to obsessed zealot is worth the price of admission as he proclaims, “We broke the world,” reminding his family that even the righteous aren’t innocent. The fact that he and Connelly haven’t had much real world contact since their work on “A Beautiful Mind” is amazing given the chemistry they exhibit in “Noah.” Connelly’s portrayal of Naameh, the loving and dedicated wife and mother who will do anything to keep her family together, balances out Crowe’s intensity.
When you’re cast as the oldest man in the world, you’re bound to steal some scenes. Hopkins’ Methuselah does just that as he goes from being an old warrior living in a cave to pursuing his last link to his humanity via a last-minute berry run. Ray Winstone takes the role of Tubal-Cain, a proud descendant of the one who helped bring about most of this mess. He’s Noah’s foil both physically and philosophically as he wonders why he isn’t worthy of God’s attention. His wicked flaws are a constant reminder of Noah’s convictions.
The final character in “Noah” is the amazing special effects. Whether you’re turned off by the subject matter or not, Aronofsky put his big budget to good use, not only utilizing fast motion in showing the history of man, but also the devastation of the flood via CG. Even the creation of the ark and its components will help make the 132-minute runtime fly by. It will also help answer the question, “How did they keep all of those animals under control?”
“Noah” has superhero, fantasy, thriller and even romantic elements that will make it appeal to many audiences. Some will think it’s a family picture while others will see it as a disaster film with modern-day environmental overtones. That’s the fun of most of Aronofky’s projects, and “Noah” is no exception, because he’s built a cinematic boat that we can all fit in.