Well that was different. Yes, here we have the biblical story of Noah and the flood, re-envisioned by the great Darren Aronofsky, director of such modern classics as Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler and Black Swan, in which Noah (Russell Crowe) struggles to complete his mission from the Creator of leading the attempt to survive the terrible flood sent to purge the world of evil of mankind in the world. He not only has to resist the vicious human king Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone), but also doubts brought on by his family about the morality of his task, which includes loyal wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) and sons Shem (Douglas Booth), Ham (Logan Lerman) and Japeth (Leo McHugh Carroll), and also Illa (Emma Watson) who is not only Noah’s adopted daughter, but Shem’s wife too, albeit a wife whose position is under pressure due to her inability to have a child. Help does come in the form of the Watchers, gravel-voiced, six-armed rock giants whose status will be one of many factors that signify how offbeat this film is.
From the opening scenes depicting the early chapters of the Bible in strange animated pictures, to the gorgeous time-lapse photography depicting the evolution of nature, and awesome landscape shots, the imagery of this film is epic without ever being easy to pin down. Its part abstract, dreamy mood piece – akin to the films of Terence Malick – and part rousing spectacle replete with huge battle scenes posing CGI monsters with hordes of extras that recall Peter Jackson more than anything else. Add in an achingly sincere, but admittedly obvious, environmentalist message, and you have several factors that shouldn’t work together -and indeed many have felt they didn’t-but which I felt never wavered in terms of the power of Aronofsky’s vision, combined with yet another brilliant score from the composer Clint Mansell.
The performances have to praised; Crowe, Connelly, Watson, Lerman, Hopkins and even Winstone all seem to be on the same wavelength, which invests Noah with a savage but graceful power. Often in the genre of the costume epic, the characters never feel real or even alive, but merely stiff waxworks spouting cod-Shakespearean dialogue, but the acting in this film is so intense, that at times it borders on the hysterical. But as I said before, the actors crucially all seem to be working in the same pitch, and so for once the grim, morbid atmosphere of a less civilized age feels harrowingly real, far more than the conventional melodrama of say, Gladiator or King Arthur, in which death feels like a dramatic device, not a truly distressing event. Crowe, of course, more than any other character shoulders the burden of this truly dark film, and makes Noah by terms brave, stoic, manic, and frightening in his religious devotion. In a ballsy move for him and a scary one for us, Crowe even sings briefly showing there’s life again for him after the debacle of Les Miserables.
I have hopefully indicated this is an interesting, well-made film despite its flaws. So why, as a non-believer amongst other things, did I really like a humourless, irony-free biblical blockbuster that has been met with a lot of sneering from many critics? I think it goes back to the old school of thought that dictates that a flawed film, which is at least the product of a strong personal artistic vision, is always more fulfilling than a more conventionally, entertaining film which has slickly been produced by many different voices, not one idiosyncratic one. Noah has not helped itself by seemingly neither making a film that affirms religious beliefs or made a film that is aimed at puncturing the absurdity of the Bible. Sincerity is not valued too much in the modern movie world, particularly when it applies to a genre like this, which is in the wrong frame of mind easy to laugh at. But how can you deny the simple power that comes through in scenes such as the one where Noah visits the camp of the evil tribes of men and looks into the eyes of one man eating a joint of raw meat, and sees something that is more recognisable as a wild beast than a man. Or perhaps poor Ham’s attempts to find a wife in the same camp. The conclusion that can be gathered from Noah is that, in the right hands, the Bible can be adapted into intensely powerful stories, completely removed from dictating either an atheistic or theistic stance. Noah is an undeniably odd hybrid of a film, but its a rich, potent piece of work if approached on its own terms.
Noah (2014), directed by Darren Aronofsky, is released in the UK by Paramount Pictures, Cert 12A.