Noah2014Poster

US 2014

Director: Darren Aronofsky

138 minutes

**This review is full of spoilers. If you know the bible well, this won’t matter, except to the extent that Noah the film isn’t entirely true to the story**

What to make of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah? Although not a believer myself, I was rather hoping to enjoy this film, just as I enjoy films about haunted houses despite not believing in ghosts. I admire Russell Crowe and Anthony Hopkins as actors, I enjoyed Darren Aronofsky’s previous two films (Black Swan and The Wrestler), and even the dumbest blockbusters can be fun. In anticipation that I might get more of a kick from wallowing in the film’s epicness rather than the story itself, I even coughed up a few extra Duane Eddy’s to see it at the IMAX. What a mistake. Noah’s problem is that it is just too epic for its own good. All subtlety is lost beneath a slew of CGI battles and a thundering soundtrack that, at times, would give Motörhead a run for their money in the volume stakes. There is absolutely no light and shade. Everything is treated so seriously that, by the time the Ark gets afloat it seems to be in imminent danger of sinking beneath the film’s overwhelming portentousness.

I am in no position to comment on how closely Noah follows the biblical story. Needless to say, some biblical literalists are already complaining that it doesn’t follow the “facts”. But really, who cares? We all know that “true stories” on the silver screen play fast and loose with the actualité, so I was happy just to take the story at face value. To begin with, after a bit of biblical scene-setting Noah starts seeing signs and having dreams that he realises is “the creator” (we never hear the word “God”) telling him about a coming disaster, a flood to punish mankind for their sins. The whole of humanity will be wiped out, but Noah will build an ark and save the world’s animals. Those animals are all birds, mammals, reptiles and insects, the dinosaurs having disappeared a few million years before. Exactly what the dinosaurs did to arouse God’s wrath is an issue left unexplored. The fish, presumably, are not endangered by the flood, and Noah does slip in a quick reference to them when recounting the story of how God made the world.

Noah starts to build the ark with the help  of a group of fearsome stone beings called The Watchers, who look like they were swept up off the cuttings room floor at one of the Lord of the Rings movies. The Watchers have this sob-story about how they were hunted and persecuted by humans, although this doesn’t quite add up because later on they turn out to be highly proficient at kicking human butt. Then Ray Winstone arrives on the scene playing Tubal-Cain, whose family have a bit of history with Noah’s family, and he warns Noah that he’s the daddy and that if Noah doesn’t get off his land there’s going to be trouble. Don’t worry, says Noah, I’m building this big ark to save my family from the terrible flood that’s going to kill you and your people. Then The Watchers start squaring up to Tubal-Cain and his mob, so they head off back home to make some more weapons.

Meanwhile, Noah’s adopted daughter Ila (Emma Watson) is in love with Shem (Douglas Booth), but she is unhappy because she can’t bear him children. While she’s out in the forest she bumps into Noah’s grandfather, Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins), who is obsessively hunting for the berries he loves, even though (or because) he hasn’t seen one in years. Methuselah waves his hand over Ila’s belly and makes her fertile. Quite where he got this magical ability, and why he can’t use it to grow berries, is never explained. Eventually, Methuselah finds a single red berry, which appears to have some symbolic meaning in relation to the red apple that Eve scrumped in the Garden of Eden (and which appears in Noah’s dreams from time to time).

Eventually, the great flood happens, whereupon Tubal-Cain’s vast army of men try to storm the ark. Curiously, there don’t seem to be any women among Tubal-Cain’s people, except for one girl that Noah’s son Ham (Logan Lerman) tries to bring along for the ride. Sadly, she gets her foot caught in a trap and Noah won’t rescue her, which causes a strain in father-son relations. Anyway, The Watchers kick the crap out of Tubal-Cain’s men, except for Tubal-Cain himself who manages to stow away on the ark, albeit wounded. Tubal-Cain bides his time, building up his strength by scoffing the animals who, incidentally, have all been put to sleep (not in the euphemistic sense) by a magical potion that Noah has mixed. Tubal-Cain also gets some help from Ham, who is still mad at dad over the girl he left behind. Despite the fact the seas are in turmoil, and the ark is rectangular rather than boat-shaped, no-one gets seasick.

Eventually, there is a showdown between Tubal-Cain and Noah. Then Noah finds out that Ila is pregnant, which isn’t good news because God has determined that the extermination of the human race includes Noah and his family, but only once they have ensured the animals’ safety. He is even madder when he learns that Methuselah cured Ila of her barrenness, because his action constituted interference with God’s plans. It wasn’t Ila’s fault, says Noah’s wife Naahmeh (Jennifer Connelly), I asked Methuselah to do it. However, this doesn’t stop Noah from vowing to kill Ila’s child if it is a girl, because a girl could procreate with young Japheth (Leo McHugh Carroll), who is destined to be the last human left alive. If you can be bothered to think about it, this does of course raise the usual philosophical questions about how – if God is all-powerful – he was unable to stop Methuselah from acting against his will.

So far, so ridiculous. Nonetheless, throughout all this Russell Crowe is always watchable. He gives a very strong performance, albeit one which is not dissimilar from some of his previous roles. Crowe is best in the scenes prior to the Ark disappearing out into the oceans, when he has the opportunity to be quite animated. Once on the ark, he increasingly adopts the countenance of someone introspecting on all manner of troubling thoughts, a role he has been playing ever since 1999’s The Insider. However, when Noah learns of Ila’s pregnancy he starts to become quite megalomaniacal, and I felt that Crowe’s performance threatened to go just a little over the top at this point. Anthony Hopkins as Methuselah was his usual hypnotic screen presence, and Ray Winstone as Tubal-Cain was fearsomely excellent.

However, herein lays a problem. These three roles are the most significant for the film and are played to the hilt by the actors in question. They completely dominate the female figures. The various female performers do their best, but just cannot compete. Jennifer Connelly fares best out of the female actors, but being required to play a – mostly – dutiful wife against a husband who is enacting God’s will doesn’t give much opportunity to shine. The person who loses out most in the acting stakes is Emma Watson. She is good in the more intimate scenes, particularly when it is just her and Connelly, but her performance is painfully exposed in the more expansive scenes, especially in the presence of Crowe. Repeatedly, she does that slight movement of the eyebrows, and looking into the distance, familiar from the Harry Potter films, which is meant to indicate concern. In these scenes she is about as wooden as the ark itself. In a broader sense the film also doesn’t do Watson any favours. For someone who is presumably keen to escape the Harry Potter label, it can’t help when, at intervals, a large CGI-ed bird swoops into a landscape shot and begins flapping furiously. I couldn’t help thinking that here was a bird on its way to deliver a message to Hogwarts.

Story-wise, Noah calls to mind one of those atheistic Facebook memes that takes a bible story (sometimes the whole bible story), strips it of all archaic and flowery language, and summarises it in a few succinct sentences that would fit on a postcard. Seen this way, all God’s cruelties and inconsistencies – at least as recorded by the authors of the Old Testament – are thrown into sharp relief for comic effect. At the end of Noah, the ark and its inhabitants are all washed up in the middle of nowhere. Rather like the film itself.

Rating: 3/10

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Comments
  1. CMrok93 says:

    It’s a very strange movie that seems like it has something to say, but doesn’t know how to say it all. So, instead, it just settles for a relatively safe ending. Good review.

    Like

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