Despite the fact that Noah was one of the films I was most looking forward to this year, there was a part of me that was very worried about it. This is Darren Aronofsky’s first time dealing with a 100+ million dollar budget film that is his most ambitious project to date, not just on a filmmaking level, but a thematic level as well. Anyone who has followed the film should know that the studio and Darren Aronofsky have been doing a tug-of-war with the creative direction of the film. It was revealed only a short while ago that confirmed Aronofsky will have the final cut, and even then, the marketing department threw disclaimers on all the promotional material making it clear that the film is a different artistic interpretation of the original story, and that was done without Aronofsky’s permission. There were also the various production problems and an increasing budget that plagued the filming. So, will Noah overcome its production issues, or will it end up as a disaster as big as the flood itself?
This is normally where I do a quick synopsis of the film, but let’s be real here. It’s the story of Noah with some details changed here and there with typical Aronofsky flair. That’s all you need to know, and frankly all you should know, since I think this is a film best experienced not knowing much about it going into it. Quick thing I should say though, even though I don’t think it should matter, but I might as well get it out of the way. I am not a Christian; I am only vaguely familiar with the details of the original story. I am, however, quite fond of Bible films. I grew up watching films like Ben-Hur, The Ten Commandments, King of Kings, The Greatest Story Ever Told, and I even think that the DreamWorks animated film, The Prince of Egypt, is one of the most underrated films period. Though, ultimately, I am mostly going into this film just being a fan of Darren Aronofsky’s work. Like I said, I don’t think this should matter, but considering the attachment that people have with the Bible and the obvious liberties taken with the film, I just wanted to make clear any biases I might have going in.
Coming out of the film, I have to say that I am absolutely astonished that this film was even released as is, without any forced cuts from Paramount Pictures. The trailers managed to hide a lot of things, and I mean a lot. With a budget this big, and the mixed reactions amongst the various test screenings, I would have expected Aronofsky to be kicked out of the editing room, so that the studio could release something much safer, and less risky. The film is absolutely bonkers with how it handles the story, and I can easily see audience reactions to the film being very strongly against it, especially in the Bible belt region. And not that it’s because the material, in and of itself, is offensive, but simply how Aronofsky goes full tilt boogie with his style, despite the trailers feeling a bit more tame and reserved.
Now, on the actual film, I’ll start with the acting. To make it brief, the acting is absolutely incredible. Russell Crowe pulls off one of the best performances of his entire career as Noah. He does an amazing job playing a character that goes from a untainted man in a sinful world, to being an increasingly unpleasant person as the film goes on, since his determination to follow God’s will, almost to a fault, takes him to some really dark places. And despite how great the supporting cast is, this is ultimately the Russell Crowe show. Jennifer Connelly does great playing Naameh, Noah’s wife, but she only goes from good to great in the second half, once the flood has arrived, and she has handful of scenes where she completely takes over. Noah’s three sons, Japheth, Shem and Ham, are very played very well by Leo McHugh Carroll, Douglas Booth and Logan Lerman, respectively. Logan Lerman stood out for me, since Ham in the film, is a character that is very self-centered, but he does a great job using his character’s flaws to make Ham feel more human and sympathetic, whereas a lesser actor would have made the role very unlikable and very annoying. Emma Watson plays Ila, Noah’s adopted daughter and Shem’s love interest, and she definitely pulls off her best performance so far. Then we finish off with Noah’s great grandfather, Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins) and the film’s antagonist, Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone), both do a really good job and are clearly having the most fun with their performances. Oh, and apparently Nick Nolte, Mark Margolis (wouldn’t be an Aronofsky film without him) and Frank Langella voice members of The Watchers. Trust me, the less I reveal about them the better.
As remarkable as the acting is, especially with Russell Crowe’s commanding performance, this film just wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the artistic voice of Darren Aronofsky behind the camera. He and co-writer, Ari Handel, never lose sight of the human story, even when the film is at its most bombastic. They do a remarkable job exploring themes of justice, the wickedness of man, our relationship with nature, judgment and our spiritual connection to a higher power, all themes that have been explored before in other film, not just ones based on the bible, yet they manage to put their own twist to it, offering more depth to the story and characters. One interesting element that is thrown into the film rather casually was a brief scene that basically promoted Evolutionary Creation (or Theistic Evolution), which I thought was a gutsy move. The film’s themes, though universal, are handled on a very personal level, and it added a great deal to the film in terms of thematic complexity.
From a directing standpoint, even though this may at first seem like a film not in Aronofsky’s ballpark, it still maintains many of his trademarks. There are many scenes containing fast cuts, his use of fades, the isolated sounds of things not on screen, repeating imagery, and the obvious one, which is a lead character that has a strong obsession to the point of self-destruction. And apart from that, Aronofsky manages to create a visually stunning film, using a mix of CGI and practical effects and sets that make the rather dirty, muddy and oddly, kind of post-apocalyptic looking world feel that much more real. Another Aronofsky trademark is the Clint Mansell score, and he delivers, as usual. He and the Kronos Quartet do a fantastic job delivering beautiful music that works hand-in-hand with the visuals, making the overall experience that much more epic.
There is very little I can say about the film that is bad, at least, in my own perspective. The only minor issues I had were some effects shots, mostly wide shots with the CG animals, where the animals don’t feel quite as real as they should, though interestingly enough, in a switch-up, the close ups on them look great. There are also a couple lines of dialogue that came across as a bit too melodramatic, even by Bible film standards, I thought they could’ve been handled better. Also, Methuselah apparently has magical powers, and I don’t think the film did a good enough job to explain how that’s possible. It didn’t take me out of the film, but I was wondering how that worked. The final thing is that Noah’s youngest son, Japheth, was extremely underused. His only purpose in the film seemed to be to occasionally yell “Father!” to get Noah’s attention on something to keep the plot moving forward. The actor does fine, I have no problem with him; it’s just that there really isn’t much to the character, to the point where if he simply disappeared half-way through, I doubt I would have noticed. The flaws pretty much end there for me.
The brilliance of Noah is that Darren Aronofsky managed to combine the revisionist and intimate storytelling, of something like The Last Temptation of Christ, with the big budget spectacle, like that of The Ten Commandments. Not only did he make one of the best Bible films in years, he just about reinvented it for a new generation of filmmakers and filmgoers. The film is an artistic achievement, full of career best performances and an imaginative vision. It really annoys me that certain people are ignoring the film simply because it’s based on a bible story. I highly recommend you watch it, and watch it under the mindset that you’re watching a fable, or for the lack of a better term, a fantasy, after all, that is almost how they treat the material, by taking all these crazy elements and just going for it. For the more religious-minded, if the changes to the story do offend you, then I guess I understand if you skip the film, but for everyone else, this is a must watch. It is a film that will be remembered for its ingenuity, its craft and most of all, its guts, and I mean that both figuratively and literally, seriously, this is a hard PG-13.
Side Note: In a perfect world, I would like more films like Noah to be made. I don’t mean Bible films, but big budget films that are driven by a unique vision. We only get it occasionally, and I am still surprised that Noah, a film aimed towards a religious audience takes as much risks as it does. Unfortunately, I am worried that negative word-of-mouth among the large Christian audience will hurt its box office returns. It certainly doesn’t help that next week Captain America: The Winter Soldier is being released and that is going to completely rule the box office for a while, and with Noah being banned in a handful of countries, I just don’t see it recouping its really large budget. I highly encourage people to support Noah, so that the studios can see that taking risks can pay off if they are willing to give it a shot. By deciding not to interfere, Paramount allowed Aronofsky to create a masterpiece and arguably, the film that he was born to make, especially considering that he said he was fascinated by the character of Noah since he was a child.