Starring: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ray Winstone
Genre: Drama/ Action
Despite the fact we are living in an increasingly secular society, I am sure most will be familiar with the outline of this narrative, but just in case you never paid any intention in Primary school: Thanks to the greed of mankind, the world is corrupted and through visions and dreams, Noah (Crowe) is informed by The Creator (I think we know who that is) of a great flood coming that will destroy, and therefore cleanse the world. Through his visions and information from his grandfather (Anthony Hopkins), Noah realises he must save the animal kingdom, who are innocent of all mankind’s crimes, and so Noah builds an enormous wooden ark that will survive the impending deluge. However, as the rains come and fellow humans get desperate, Noah faces not only the battle to keep the arc for the animals, but an even bigger internal battle.
Despite potentially directing Batman Begins and Robocop, one the best and most unique and visionary of current directors (and director of my favourite film of all time) Darren Aronofsky has thankfully stayed away from big budget blockbusters, but it was of course inevitable; and so here we have Noah and its $125million budget.
Well, I cannot help but think that this substantial budget has meant one of the more uncompromising of directors has had to compromise; leading to a real mixed bag of a film. I am in no way religious, but when at its best Noah is a protagonist driven narrative that has some stunning shots, a brooding atmosphere and deals with some genuinely interesting ideas as our protagonist undertakes a deep internal battle. However it is also way too long, often painstakingly ponderous and has contrived developments that are there for narrative convenience, but ultimately threaten to undermine all the good work just because some studio bigwig is there wagging their index figure. These moments verge on farcical when we get stop motion rock monsters; there is some boring exposition about them being angels that were punished for helping humans by being encased in rock, but it feels like it is more a lazy way of making sure Noah had some help when building is ark. Their involvement in the narrative does have novelty value, but for me verges on unintentionally funny. Likewise Noah’s grandfather (Hopkins) who can do miraculous things with no explanation, should the narrative require it.
I hate to compare films in a review, but in this case I have no choice just to prove a point; The Fountain suffered a budget cut and for me benefited from that, as well as its 90 minute running time and a more intimate approach to its character driven narrative. I feel that Noah would have benefitted substantially from the same intimate approach, running time and budget.
For me this film is about Noah and his internal struggles and conflicts, and the huge budget and bloated running time just throw in way too much else that distract and often bore. For the protagonist is required a commending performance and thankfully, despite sporting an eclectic range of beards and hairstyles, Crowe gives one of his most commanding performances of recent times. Through subtle expressions Crowe lives and breathes the life changing tests that Noah faces, evoking sympathy and compassion for a character that has only the best of intentions. Likewise, Jennifer Connelly gives one of her best performances for a very long time, with a performance of genuine emotional depth; her character provides some of the deepest and most intriguing questions that the narrative has to offer to its protagonist. Unfortunately Logan Lerman and Emma Watson (cynical, marketing friendly casting perhaps?) fail to give their admittedly intriguing characters any depth whatsoever.
However, so many moments around these two genuinely intriguing characters are detracted by some painfully clunky dialogue, scenes that seem to take forever for anything to happen and painfully clichéd moments. For example, Ray Winstone’s character at first effectively represents the reason why ‘The Creator’ wants to destroy the world, but later some studio bigwig has demanded that at this high budget the film has to have a ‘bad guy’. So Winstone’s character outstays his welcome and quite frankly adds nothing other than clichéd contrivance and an unpleasant distraction to the more thoughtful themes of the narrative.
One good thing the huge budget does provide is the exhilarating set piece as the inevitable floods do arrive (not a spoiler). Here Aronofsky seems able to have free rule, and what he produces is an absolutely breathtaking set piece that is thrilling, engaging and at times devastating. The decision for this to be in the middle of the narrative is a bold one, but it allows the final third to (with a slightly compromised approach) explore the central themes surrounding the internal struggle of the film’s protagonist. However there are also the aforementioned plot contrivances and a final thirty minutes that feel painfully slow.
Throughout, Noah is a film that contains beautiful shots and expressive editing, an epic score from the always excellent Clint Mansell (though at times it sounds similar to his score for The Fountain) and at times does truly engage and capture the imagination. There is no denying Aronofsky’s impressive ambitions behind this project, but perhaps a lower budget and Aronosfsky being predominantly in charge may have produced a film that truly justified this ambition.
Noah is a film of admirable ambition that contains some great visuals and engaging protagonist driven ideas at its heart, re-confirming Aronofsky as one the best visual directors working today. However it does feel compromised, is way too long and ultimately is a truly mixed bag of a film that engages and thrills, but also at times frustrates and bores.