Review – Noah

Bonkers, bizarre and brilliant in equal measure, it’s fair to say there won’t be another film quite like Darren Aronofsky’s Noah this – or perhaps any – year.

In an age of identikit blockbusters, Noah should be applauded for having the courage of its convictions to offer an experience you won't soon forget

In an age of identikit blockbusters, Noah should be applauded for having the courage of its convictions to offer an experience you won’t soon forget

The Bible’s many film adaptations have invariably been of the epic variety; overblown ‘event’ movies that are as extravagant as they are huge.

While Noah doesn’t skimp on the computer-generated bombast, it’s also the product of a singular vision – one that both captivates and infuriates.

Throughout his career, Aronofsky’s films have centred on obsessively driven characters; whether they be the cast of Requiem For A Dream (2000) seeking the next fix, Natalie’s Portman’s ballet dancer going to any lengths to reach the top of the pile in Black Swan (2010), or Hugh Jackman’s various incarnations of the same character searching for the tree of life in The Fountain (2006).

The 'Creator' gets angry in Noah

The ‘Creator’ gets angry in Noah

Noah represents his most fanatical character yet – a husband and father whose response to an apocalyptic vision received from ‘the Creator’ is to spend years building a giant ark to save the animal kingdom from the impending flood.

The world Noah (Russell Crowe) and his family inhabit has been ravaged by mankind’s greed and corruption. They eke out a nomadic life away from the rest of humanity in a shattered, lunar landscape (Iceland in reality) ruled by Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone), descendant of Adam and Eve’s murderous son Cain.

Noah (Russell Crowe) finally feels the rain in Noah

Noah (Russell Crowe) finally feels the rain in Noah

A fearful Tubal-Cain is determined to seize the ark, but must first build an army to overcome the Watchers; crazy-looking fallen angels encrusted in rock who aid Noah in his mammoth task and come across as the craggy cousins of the talking trees from The Lord Of The Rings.

When it finally does come, the flood is impressively staged. The sense of chaotic desperation among Tubal-Cain and his followers to fight their way onto the ark as Noah and the Watchers try to keep them back is both unnerving and edge-of-the-seat stuff. However, the most chilling and indelible image comes later as the last vestiges of mankind cling hopelessly to a rapidly submerging rock, wailing in vain at the nearby ark as Noah blanks out their screams.

Noah's family, son Japheth (Leo McHugh Carroll), wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), son Shem (Douglas Booth) and adopted daughter Ila (Emma Watson) in Noah

Noah’s family, son Japheth (Leo McHugh Carroll), wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), son Shem (Douglas Booth) and adopted daughter Ila (Emma Watson) in Noah

It’s a truly nightmarish moment that sets up the film’s final act as an increasingly dogmatic Noah turns his wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), sons Shem (Douglas Booth) and Ham (Logan Lerman) and adopted daughter Ila (Emma Watson) against him when he declares his work won’t be finished until the ultimate sacrifice is made.

Just as with The Fountain, Noah is predominately a spiritualist film rather than an overtly religious one (reflective of Aronofsky’s personal beliefs). It also carries an urgent environmental message – as global warming brings with it rising sea levels, scorched earth and dwindling resources, may we too be forced to start again when the proverbial crap hits the fan?

"Take the ark!!" - Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone) gets mad in Noah

“Take the ark!!” – Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone) gets mad in Noah

The film has a curious mix of the fantastical (a strange, dog-like beast being hunted by Tubal-Cain’s men; the Watchers; huge stars shining brightly in the daytime) and the grittily authentic. In spite of the larger-than-life connotations of the source material, Aronofsky never lets us forget these are human beings making stomach-churning decisions.

The anger and bewilderment expressed by Shem and Ham towards their merciless father when the screams of those left outside the ark are heard is entirely believable. At one point, a sickened Shem pleads to Noah to let them in, pointing out that not everyone can be ‘guilty’. Noah’s response is to state that every human has a darkness inside of them, a point given form earlier in the film when Noah sneaks into Tubal-Cain’s sin-laden camp and sees a vision of himself giving into his base instincts in order to survive.

Have ark, will travel - Noah and co prepare for the storm in Noah

Have ark, will travel – Noah and co prepare for the storm in Noah

By staging the flood halfway through the movie, one imagines Aronofsky aimed for the real drama to take place within the confines of the ark. However, rather than being the dramatic cannonball he was hoping for, this final act curiously fails to engage and ends up going off the deep end. Perhaps it’s Noah’s incessant reiteration that everyone must accept their punishment that ultimately proves the biggest turn off.

Whatever misgivings one may have here are counterbalanced by the much talked about ‘creation sequence’, reinterpreted by Aronofsky’s time-lapsed visuals as the journey of evolution from the big bang (“Let there be light”) to man’s inhumanity to man. It’s a bravura scene that’s worth the price of admission alone.

Noah's son Ham (Logan Lerman) runs for his life in Noah

Noah’s son Ham (Logan Lerman) runs for his life in Noah

In his best performance for years, Crowe gives a truly affecting performance of a man being pushed beyond his limits while carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. While a very physical performer, Crowe does his best work with his eyes by showing the terrible emotional pain he endures in order to carry out the Creator’s work.

Connelly’s Naameh is the crux both we and her family lean on to navigate our way through these turbulent waters and her performance is excellent. Winstone does what he does best as the unhinged Tubal-Cain, who appears to be history’s first Cockney, while an ancient-looking Anthony Hopkins has a twinkle in his eye as Noah’s grandfather Methuselah.

In an age of identikit blockbusters, Noah should be applauded for having the courage of its convictions to offer an experience you won’t soon forget.

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32 comments

  1. theipc · April 9, 2014

    Great post!!

  2. mikeyb @ screenkicker · April 9, 2014

    Excellent review. You’ve put what’s great about into better words than I did. It is an immensely brave film and its unlike anything I’ve seen for a long time. Glad you liked it to

    • Three Rows Back · April 9, 2014

      That’s very kind, thanks so much. Very pleased you got as much out of this as I did.

  3. CMrok93 · April 9, 2014

    Good review. I’m so used to Aronofsky making these types of movies that I almost didn’t care how uneven it was. Actually, that’s a lie, it did. However, I was able to get past most of it and just focus on the visual-spectacle he was able to give me.

    • Three Rows Back · April 9, 2014

      Thanks Dan. It’s certainly a visual spectacle, that’s for sure. I’m hoping it doesn’t take another four years before his next project.

  4. Joseph@thecinemamonster · April 10, 2014

    Wow, we really don’t agree very much on this one lol.

    • Three Rows Back · April 10, 2014

      Well, we can’t agree on everything! What a boring world that would be, eh?

  5. sidekickreviews · April 10, 2014

    That’s a good connection how Aronofsky focusses on obsessive characters. Great review!

    • Three Rows Back · April 10, 2014

      Ah, cheers my friend. I’ve loved Aronofsky’s movies since watching Pi when it came out on VHS. He’s one of the most essential voices in American cinema right now.

  6. Tim The Film Guy · April 10, 2014

    Good review, the film is very weird but interesting 😀

    • Three Rows Back · April 10, 2014

      Thanks a lot Tim. Weird and interesting are two of the best words to describe this!

  7. Writer Loves Movies · April 10, 2014

    While most of this movie is powerful stuff I agree that it goes off the deep end in the final act and it winds up feeling melodramatic. Great write up.

    • Three Rows Back · April 10, 2014

      Appreciate that. Despite going off the deep end it remains one of the most fascinating films I’ve seen for a good long while.

  8. jjames36 · April 10, 2014

    And again you make this sound better than I was expecting it to be. I’ll give this one a shot at some point, too.

    Great review!

    • Three Rows Back · April 10, 2014

      Ha ha, thanks mate! Hope you check it out my friend (try to catch it at the cinema); will look forward to reading your thoughts.

  9. Terry Malloy's Pigeon Coop · April 10, 2014

    Great stuff Mark as always. I initially had no interest in this whatsoever but the ridiculously divisive reviews have drawn me in. Looking forward to it now!

    • Three Rows Back · April 10, 2014

      Thanks a bunch Chris. I’ve been fascinated with watching this since discovering Aronofsky was going to bring it to the big screen. Speaking of big screens, I’d recommend checking this out in the cinema mate.

  10. Wendell · April 11, 2014

    Great review. I liked it but diidnt love it. However, you summed up your feelings very nicely. I enjoyed reading it. Even if I almost stopped after the “Bonkers, bizarre, and brilliant in equal measure.” Why? Because that sums up my feelings perfectly.

  11. ruth · April 11, 2014

    I might give this a shot in rental. I’m Aronofsky’s biggest fan and though I love and respect Biblical stories, this one seems more about the director’s vision which doesn’t necessarily align with the source material. I think that would impact my enjoyment of it, no matter how great the performances are (as Crowe usually does).

    • Three Rows Back · April 20, 2014

      I’ve always believed that a film should be judged separately from its source material. It’s definitely worth it Ruth, if only to see Aronofsky’s fascinating vision on screen.

  12. Ayush Chandra · April 14, 2014

    Nice review, but the movie is not as good and its collection at box office is really disaster….

    • Three Rows Back · April 20, 2014

      Thanks Ayush. Well, everyone’s entitled to their opinion. As for the film’s box office; I have to disagree. Films are deemed a ‘success’ if they make twice as much as they cost. Noah cost $125m and has so far taken $250m – a success!

  13. Tom · April 16, 2014

    Great write-up sir. You’ve already read me . . .DAYS ago. . .sorry I’m taking so long in getting around to yours. 🙂

    I too had issues with the third act, Noah’s behavior really started getting on my nerves. But at the same time, I think I have to applaud Aronofsky for even taking on that task. What he effectively does is compact the drama that’s going on on a global scale to an area no bigger than this ark. It goes from environmental drama to family soap opera. hahah. A very interesting film indeed, and a brave choice for the man.

    • Three Rows Back · April 20, 2014

      And sorry for the late reply! I’m still mulling the movie over if I’m honest. That third act is really strange; your overview is spot on. A f**cked up family soap opera indeed!

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  15. Lights Camera Reaction · May 13, 2014

    Glad you liked it! I wasn’t a big fan of the first quarter, but I loved the rest of it. I loved Crowe’s dark performance and the inner themes of the film too.
    Emma Watson was also very impressive.

    • Three Rows Back · May 13, 2014

      Thanks! As my review stated, I enjoyed parts, others not so much (the final act on the ark didn’t really work for me).

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