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Noah

April 3, 2014

Noah (** ½) PG-13

There’s no denying that director Darren Aronofsky is a filmmaker to be reckoned with when one takes into consideration the work he’s been churning out since bursting onto the scene a decade and a half ago with his debut film Pi. That’s what makes it such a head-scratcher that a creative artist of his stature, with challenging films of the caliber of Black Swan and Requiem For a Dream on his resume, would bother to take on such a seemingly thankless task as retelling the biblical story of Noah. He’s said in interviews that the story has fascinated him for decades. With that sort of inherent passion for the story one would probably expect to receive more than what they actually take away from Aronofsky’s take on the story. The end result is an uneasy blend of both the director’s unquestionable strengths as a director and a more commercial type of filmmaking that fans of his work won’t necessarily be lining up to see and which fundamental purists are sure to be disappointed.

Since the actual story of Noah as presented in the bible doesn’t really lend itself to filling a two-plus hour film, Aronofsky, along with co-writer Ari Handel, have fleshed out the backstory.

Russell Crowe as Noah

The film opens by recounting the oft told tale of Adam and Eve—complete with a badly digitized snake that looks like it stepped of one of the director’s earlier films—and inserting a subplot that tells the audience what happened to Adam and Eve’s descendants after their fall from grace.

It seems that the ‘Creator’—as he’s referred to in the film—sent ‘Watchers’ to protect the good from the bad, which is mostly what mankind has become at this point. Let me digress for a moment and tell you that these ‘Watchers’ are one of the most wrong-headed decisions in the film. They are towering giants, made out of rock, and looking like a cross between the Transformers and the stone giants of Easter Island and voiced in bassist monotones by Nick Nolte, Frank Langella, and Mark Margolis. Each time they appear onscreen the film devolves into the CGI shenanigans that has become too commonplace in this day and age—and it does the film no favors.

The subplots in the film involve Noah’s wife, Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), and her hopes that her children will be fruitful and multiply, which proves to be a problem since the only one around of a child bearing age would be lla (Emma Watson) and she can’t bear children as the result of a childhood injury. Naameh enlists Noah’s grandpa, Methuselah’s (Anthony Hopkins) help in this matter, which enrages Noah to no end.

Another big problem with the film is its lumbering pace. The actual flood doesn’t even occur until about the 75-minute mark and it’s a long slog to get there. Once it happens, it’s pretty spectacular but it’s not enough to recommend a film that can best be labeled as an interesting misfire.

Questions or comments? Write Adam at filmfan1970@hotmail.com.

Noah is playing all over creation, including North Carolina.

Noah (***) PG-13

By Jocelyn Noveck

AP National Writer

What to make of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah? Perhaps that’s the wrong question. Indeed, what NOT to make of Noah? Because it is so many things.

It is, of course, a biblical blockbuster, a 21st-century answer to Cecil B. DeMille. It’s also a disaster movie—the original disaster, you might say. It’s an intense family drama. Part sci-fi film. An action flick? Definitely, along the lines of The Lord of the Rings. At times you might also think of Transformers, and at one point, even The Shining.

But there’s one thing Noah is not, for a moment: Dull. So, what to make of Noah? It’s a movie that, with all its occasional excess, is utterly worth your time, 138 minutes of it.

Although the real star of the film is its visual ingenuity, particularly in a few stunning sequences, one must give ample credit to Russell Crowe, who lends Noah the moral heft and groundedness we need to believe everything that ends up happening to him.

Anthony Hopkins & Leo Hugh McCall in Noah

Noah’s near-descent into madness would not be nearly as effective had Crowe not already convinced us of his essential decency. At the same time, the actor is believable when pondering the most heinous crime imaginable. It’s one of Crowe’s more effective performances.

It wouldn’t have been possible, though, without considerable liberties taken by Aronofsky and his co-screenwriter, Ari Handel, in framing Noah’s story. There’s been controversy here, but if you glance at the Bible, you’ll see why liberties are necessary: the story takes up only a few passages, hardly enough for a feature-length script.

And yet, it’s one of the best-known tales in the Bible, if most of us only remember the children’s version, with visions of brightly painted animals standing two-by-two on the ark. But there’s a much more serious backdrop: Man’s wickedness, and God’s desire to purge the earth of that wickedness. Aronofsky dives headlong into this story of good vs. evil, not only between men, but within one man’s soul.

We meet Noah and his family as they’re attempting to live peacefully off the land, and ward off the greedy, violent descendants of Cain. Noah has three sons and a wife, Naameh (Jennifer Connelly, genuine and appealing). Along the way they pick up Ila, an injured young girl who will grow to love Noah’s son Shem (an invented character, played with sensitivity by Emma Watson.)

Noah visits his grandfather, Methuselah, embodied with scene-stealing vigor by Anthony Hopkins. The old man—and by the way, this is relative, because Noah himself is already over 500 years old, according to the Bible—helps him induce a hallucination, which brings a vision. The Creator will destroy the Earth in a great flood. Noah’s job, of course, is to build that great ark, and get out of Dixie.

It’s a monumental task, but Noah has help: the Watchers, huge, lumbering creatures made of rock, who, for Aronofsky, represent the biblical Nephilim. Are they angels, giants or men? Interpretation varies.

But it is here that the movie courts ridicule. These creatures look a little too much like Transformers, and detract from the mystical feel of the film. A giggle is surely not what the director was going for here, but he may get a few.
But that ark? It’s a wondrous thing—constructed on a Long Island field, according to measurements specified in Genesis, and finished up digitally.

Also stunning: the flood itself, more chilling than any you’ve seen in a disaster flick. It’s also rather magical to watch the animals arrive, two by two (and by virtue of CGI) at the ark.

But for sheer cinematic beauty, it’s hard to beat the dreamlike sequence in which Aronofsky illustrates the story of creation, as recounted by Noah. At this moment, you may well forgive any excesses in the film. Like his flawed hero, Aronofsky has a vision—a cinematic one—and the results, if not perfect, are pretty darned compelling.

Three stars out of four.

 

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