Director: Darren Aronofsky
Running time: 138 mins
Cast: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ray Winstone, Emma Watson
Let me start off by saying one thing – Noah is a very strange film. A good film but a strange one. Before writing this review I decided to take a look at the message boards for Noah on the Internet Movie Database. And what I found was extremely annoying. Instead of adult debate on the merits of the film we get an irritating argument between some religious people and some atheists that descends into insults. One side claims the film is the worst thing ever because it deviates from the biblical text. The other side derisively snort that, God forbid, the movie is fantastical and therefore silly. Both claims are childish and reductive (please note – I’m not talking about all religious people or atheists, just the insult slinging ones). So where does the truth lie?
Unsurprisingly it’s somewhere in the middle. Director Darren Aronofsky has attempted to embellish a bible story that was only four chapters long and pretty vague in the original book. Almost everyone knows the basic tale – God tells Noah that he’s going to wipe out most of mankind with a flood, and tells Noah to build a huge ark to save the animals and his family. This is the story Aronofsky uses as a jumping off point but to this he adds, amongst other things – an army attempting to storm the ark, a family drama, lots of fighting, and giant rock monsters. That’s right, I said giant rock monsters. You see, this telling of the Noah story is distinctly Tolkien-esque (I tried to think of a witty name for it but ‘The Nobbit’ is the best I could come up with). The attempt to attack the ark melds Helms Deep and the march of the Ents and it’s pretty bad-ass. Not to get into a theological argument but Genesis does mention giants so it’s not a huge leap to arrive at stone goliaths. And these big bastards batter people left right and centre in one of the most exciting scenes of the movie.
It’s the decision to make the scope more epic than a guy building a boat that gives the film it most memorable moments. This is a world that is very different from ours. The landscapes of the ancient world are strange and alien, like a big post apocalyptic quarry. This coupled with the story mean that the film could be set in the far future or the far past. Noah’s family scrape a living together off the land until a series of dreams given by God convince him to build the ark. From here the story becomes less action packed but more interesting as we come to question what the creator’s plan actually is and whether Noah can fully understand it in it’s entirety. Does God mean to save humans or have they had their chance? Or does He want to give Noah the free will to decide how his life plays out? It’s this ambiguity that elevates the film from a straight retelling of a simple story to a fascinating study of a man struggling to do the right thing on a global scale. Russell Crowe is excellent as the conflicted Noah and he’s ably supported by Jennifer Connelly as his wife Naameh and Ray Winstone as the villainous Tubal-Cain.
The last third may drag somewhat due to the shift from the action laden start and some of the special effects are a bit ropey but what’s left is a unique vision of one of the most famous events from the Bible. It would also have been nice to see more of the vast empires that the unworthy humans had constructed to give more of an idea how they lived. However great performances and a strong message of respect for nature and respect for your fellow man mean that this incredibly strange epic will stay with you and make you ask some deep questions about Man’s place in the world.