It seems like an odd decision for director Darren Aronofsky, the man that gave us the haunting Requiem For A Dream, the beautifully philosophical The Fountain, the gritty The Wrestler, and the creepy Black Swan to sign on to adapt the biblical story of Noah. It’s a big budget, religious drama for the masses, that Aronofsky is above making…but it ends up he’s the best guy for the job. He takes everything he gave us in his previous work and combines it in an exciting, powerful, thought-provoking, epic drama.
The smartest thing that Aronofsky does is embraces the weirdness of the biblical tale. He doesn’t shy away from the fantastical elements of the story. As his family struggle to survive as the only remaining “good” in the world, Noah (Russell Crowe) starts having visions of an impeding doom on Earth. Aronofsky assaults us with jarring images of violence and death with fast editing, sharp cinematography, and bright colours. Throughout the film, he pushes the PG-13 rating as about as far as you can go. While Aronofsky has fun with the wondorus aspects of the story, he also deftly grounds it with human drama.
Russell Crowe is back in historical mode and he just clicks in the genre. He anchors the film with a great balance of masculinity and vulnerability. The film smartly cast Jennifer Connelly (also reuniting with her Requiem For A Dream director) as Noah’s wife. The two don’t get a ton of time to establish their relationship, so the fact that Crowe and Connelly have a previous relationship in the Oscar-winning film A Beautiful Mind (the film that won Connelly an Oscar) really helps. This film almost feels like a continuation of their relationship. The dialogue often sounds like stilted scripture, so having a cast of Oscar winners (Anthony Hopkins also pops up for a few scenes) really helps.
The building of the ark is spectacular. It leads to a battle sequence that will put you in awe. It’s the stuff that people want to see in a big budget action flick. It rivals Lord Of The Rings. But that’s only the first half of the film. It seems as though Noah is going to be a enjoyable, lightweight blockbuster, but it turns into a thought-provoking, complicated human drama in its second half. Once the ark sets sail, that’s when things get really interesting. Initially, Connelly’s role is quite slight, basically consisting of lingering glances. But later in the film, she gets some really meaty material, leading to one scene where she pleads with her husband that is worthy of the Oscar winner. She nails it.
Also doing great work is Emma Watson as Ila, a girl who the family comes across on their travels and takes in as one of their own, and Logan Lerman, as the son who questions his father’s actions. What Noah ultimately presents is the ultimate question: is Man the ultimate ruler of Earth or should we serve a higher power even when we don’t necessarily understand it? The film presents a lot of questions but smartly doesn’t answer them. Its characters end up feeling as unsure of themselves as everyone does in life.
Noah ultimately becomes a much deeper Hollywood blockbuster than you are expecting it to. Now, I know why Darren Aronofsky felt this material was worthy of his expert touch.