film reel image

film reel image

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Noah 2014 * * * Stars

NoahDirector: Darren Aronofsky
Year: 2014
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ray Winstone, Emma Watson

If I knew I was going into the theater to watch a bunch of huge, robotic rock caricatures roam the Earth, I'd probably avoid buying a ticket. But I stuck around to experience some good old fashioned fire and brimstone. So without further adieu, I give you the latest biblical release to filter into multiplexes all across the country this March. Ah, let there be Noah!

Darren Aronofsky directs and whether or not you believe in his vision being complete hooey, is hearsay. Noah's visuals, said director, and the actors offer to make you think otherwise. Now granted, all of the factors just mentioned, are combined to sell you the audience, every scene in its 2 hour plus running time. Why? To make you believe that this is actually how it went down.

Along with subjugating an interesting slant on the Old Testament, Noah also has the luxury of having one of the world's finest movie moguls playing the title character. As God's handily chosen one, Russell Crowe delivers an assured, brilliant performance. He's the go-to thespian for anything biblical or for a better word, historical. His ultimate weapon is his voice. Mr. Crowe undoubtedly has to have one of the greatest acting voices in the history of cinema. I mean I would literally pay this guy to just sit down and read a menu, or a phone book, or heck, even the ingredients on a can of soup. As expected, he is perfectly cast which is another way of saying that there's no other actor who could inhabit this role (expect for maybe the late, great Charlton Heston). And thankfully, he's backed up by a surrounding group of supporting players that almost never hit a false note.

Now as a kid, I remember the story of Noah. It's essentially about a man who is told by God to build a huge contraption to hold all animals in two's. He must do this because a flood is coming that intends to end the world as we know it. In this 2014 version, there were a lot of things I didn't see coming. I didn't know that a conflict would arise between good and evil. That role belongs to Ray Winstone who plays Tubal-cain. He's essentially the villain and well, as a youngster, I never knew that villains existed in Noah's plight. Winstone does a solid job as well as the rest of the cast including Jennifer Connelly and Emma Watson. Connelly, matching Crowe scene for scene, also gives a powerhouse performance as his wife. She has a moment of Oscar glory that might have come too soon in the year. It arrives toward the film's last quarter and maybe voters will remember it come December. Then there's Sir Anthony Hopkins playing a weird, underutilized character as Noah's grandfather. His screen time feels like a couple of cameos. Dare I say that his role came off as comedic rather than serious (he sure had an appetite for some wild berries).

Performances aside, if there was one guy who had to take on the reins of bringing the concept of Noah to life, I'm glad it's Aronofsky. He's a visionary filmmaker who first caught my eye with 2000's Requiem for a Dream. He channels a little residue from that film into this one by way of certain cuts and images. His vision for Noah is salty and psychedelic, dark and dreary, and for the most part, modernized. His visuals are sumptuous while his storytelling ability (the film's only weak point) has seen better days. And as bold a director as he is, he still finds time to include an educational, visual feast that feels a little out of place. At I guess 2-3 minutes, it involves Crowe narrating the first chapter of Genesis a la the planetarium scene from 2000's Mission to Mars (I didn't see that coming).

Basically Aronofsky's Noah isn't perfect because it establishes characters and situations without a lot of buildup. Things tend to drag a bit especially in the first hour. Added to that, Noah throughout has a fumbled structure with small portions of incoherency. Finally, I felt at times like I was watching Crowe in Gladiator mode (how did Noah learn to fight so well) or taking in scenes filtered right out of 2007's Transformers. Oh yeah and there were times where I thought I was trapped in the world of Lord of the Rings (it's a scene where evil soldiers are trying to get into the ark which is barricaded by the rock creatures mentioned in the first paragraph). Anyway in spite of all this, Noah gets by when the proceedings come down like a sledgehammer in the third and final act. In fact, Noah excels in this act the most when all the animals and humans are already tucked away safely in the ark. The film then gets some legs as it prepares you for a supremely dark detour that you are about to take as an audience member.

Bottom line: Aronofsky's direction although skewed, is brilliant and unique. I'm proud of his effort even though it's a little kooky in a way that might dissuade your average churchgoing type. Yes, this March release has flaws but it succeeds by not playing it safe. It's one of those movies where if you think you know where things are headed, you might just be wrong in your assessment. To end this review, I'll leave you with this interesting factoid: according to Aronofsky's harrowing vision, there is one scene taking place near the film's conclusion, who's outcome cements itself to be the reason why all of us humans still exist. Well all I have to say is thank God for that (no pun intended)!

Written by Jesse Burleson

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