Noah (2014) / Adventure-Drama

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence, disturbing images and brief suggestive content
Running Time: 138 min.

Cast: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, Douglas Booth, Nick Nolte
Small role: Frank Langella (voice)
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Screenplay: Darren Aronofsky, Ari Handel

Review published March 29, 2014

Darren Aronofsky's Noah is a very loose interpretation of the well-known Bible story, one so popular that even most who have never attended Sunday school have heard of it, that will likely divide audiences who may or may not enjoy the liberties the auteur explores on top of the story of the Great Flood that all but wiped out the evil men on Earth.  It comes off a little more Lord of the Rings than it does the Book of Genesis, but, like it or not, you can't deny that it's a provocative work that delves into many more themes than the account in Genesis.

After a bizarrely unfaithful recap of the early books of Genesis, in a nutshell, this film is about a man named, of course, Noah (Crowe, Winters Tale), who receives visions that the empire of evil men who have derived from the murderous sins of Cain is about to get obliterated by a giant deluge of rain.  In this vision, Noah is to build a giant ark in which he and his family will house pairs of many of Earth's animals in order to preserve them all for the future in which all of the most wicked are no longer in existence.  So, he packs up his wife Naameh (Connelly, 9) and their three sons, Shem (Booth, LOL), Ham (Lerman, The Perks of Being a Wallflower), and Japeth (Leo McHugh Carroll), along with adopted girl Ila (Watson, The Bling Ring), and sets about constructing the massive vessel, with the help of fallen angels-turned-stone behemoths known as Watchers, while fending off the evil hordes who occasionally gather around them, led by the vicious Tubal-cain (Winstone, Snow White and the Huntsman).

Noah is certainly an ambitious undertaking, and with such ambition comes a certain admiration, even if the results fall short of the greatness that has been grasped for.  Aronofsky (Black Swan, Pi) is no stranger to ambitious failures, as his ponderous The Fountain failed to connect to the vast majority of audiences who've seen it, despite plenty of interesting concepts within.  However, what makes Noah feel like an even bigger failure is that most of the wrong-headed directions seem to be done, not to make it more artistic or erudite, but to make it more accessible to the general public looking for a grand, rip-roaring adventure. 

It's Aronofsky's eye to commercial appeal that he wears like an ill-fitting suit, and though there are artistic flourishes here and there, they're more the exception than the norm in this special-effects driven epic.  If we scoffed at the attempt to make fairy tales more "actiony" to the detriment of the original intent in such things as Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, I don't see why we should be giving Noah a pass for doing the same, just because Aronofsky's name is attached.

Although some will praise the multitudinous effects shots, which certainly impress in terms of the magnitude of the massive watery destruction, the CGI work is not very convincing, particularly in the rendering of the obviously computer-generated animals.  In addition, the inclusion of the Watchers, the hulking, rock-like creatures who are cursed by God due to their desire to help mankind (very loosely based on the Nephilim, who were the giant offspring of angels who lusted and had relations with the Earthly women), feels like something borne more out of a geological version of Transformers than anything one might find in the classic tale of Noah.  The best moments of the film come not from the amount of special effects, but from Aronofsky's visions as portrayed through a series of time-lapse montages that recount Earth's origin and the history (and future) of mankind and their struggle between their bleeding hearts contrasting with our feral actions.

If the film fails, it's certainly not the fault of the actors, who are able to shine despite some fairly thin characterizations.  Most of the discussions and conflicts within the film have to do with one's lineage, starting off with whether characters have derived from either wicked Cain or benign Seth as the sons of Adam and Eve.  It's also important to strive to continue the bloodline in the best possible way once the flood is said and done.  Surely, the emphasis on lineage is there in the Bible, with its "begats" and "son of"s strewn liberally throughout, but this one ups the ante to the point where it becomes virtually the only defining characteristic worth a rip in ones life.

Where the film does fail, at least to me, is in its narrative flaws, including one particular flaw that nagged at me throughout.  In Aronofsky's beautifully crafted montage depicting the "six days" of God's creation of the heavens and Earth, the animals that walk the land are not instantly created by God, but rather, shown to have evolved from the creatures of the sea (as part of His intelligent design).  Later on, it is revealed by Noah that God intends for the ark mission to be so that animals can continue on after the Flood, and because Noah and his clan can bear no more children, the fate of humanity will die with them not long after their mission to save the animals is complete.  The problem here is that, even if all of the land animals were to have drowned in the flood, the animals of the ocean still continue to exist through the Flood and beyond, and would eventually evolve to the point where they will repopulate the land on Earth again. Therefore, this makes the entirety of Noah's mission seem like a  completely needless task if God only wants to erase humans from the equation.

Noah isn't really the Biblical Noah, and really isn't that good of a fictional one, caught somewhere between visionary art and commercialized artifice in a manner that doesn't really work well as a good example of either.  But what it really lacks, other than narrative viability, is real emotional content, as we care so very little for humanity's plight, whether the untold masses of humans drowned in the flood, or the possibility that they may not continue to exist much farther beyond the Biblical boat ride.  But the end, Noah isn't so much a call for viewers to be God-fearing or even good people, but rather, good stewards of the Earth, by being kind to (i.e. stop consuming) animals and exploiting the land and each other for wealth and power. 

That's all well and good, but it's not really 'Noah' and it's not really inspiring enough to change anyone's world view (or even one's personal dietary habits), so what we are left with is a lengthy, large-scale spectacle without resonance, save for occasionally arresting visual moments.  In the Old Testament, Noah's own ark mission may have proven successful, but Aronofsky's Noah misses the boat.

Qwipster's rating:

2014 Vince Leo