Plot: Based on the Old Testament story, Noah (Russell Crowe) is chosen by the Creator to preserve two of every animal, as all of humanity is to be cleansed in a great flood. As Noah strives to fulfill the Creator’s wishes, he is met with resistance by mankind, and his own personal struggles at making the impossible decisions that are thrust upon him.
They don’t make ’em like this anymore. They really don’t. If you want to see a film that will completely knock you on your ass sideways from Sunday, Noah is your movie. Darren Aronofsky’s latest is a powerful, rich, visceral, bad ass, introspective, harsh, and complex epic that doesn’t fuck around. It’s Braveheart meets The Lord of the Rings. It’s awe-inspiring, and will probably go down as one of the best movies of the year. Darren Aronofsky’s last film (Black Swan) was four years ago, but Noah is well worth the wait.
People like to throw around the phrase “Visually Stunning” a lot when it comes to film, but this one actually fits the bill. Screw Avatar. Yay, blue people and a bunch of waterfalls, whoopty doo. This is the real shit. The combination of practical locations and CG is seamless. But aside from that, the film just looks gorgeous. Matthew Libatique does the cinematography, and it’s one of the best looking movies I’ve ever seen. There’s one moment in particular where Noah and his wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) are talking, and they are basically silhouettes. I can’t even begin to describe how incredible this looks. The other equally impressive visual scene is when Noah recounts the creation story, which sort of reminded me of the animated sequence of the Three Brothers in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I, but done even better. The action is surprisingly awesome as well. Darren Aronofsky has always been a strong visual director, but this was the first time he had to pull off epic action scenes, and he does so in spades. There have been films in the past like The Tree of Life, Cloud Atlas, or even Aronofsky’s The Fountain that had strong visuals, but you couldn’t appreciate them due to a lack of story structure. Noah achieves both, which made the look of the film that much more powerful. The visuals actually meant something.
Speaking of story, let’s just get this out of the way right now. If you’re expecting the Noah story adapted word for word with absolutely no changes, then don’t see the film. This is a movie. It’s an interpretation. Get over it. There’s a lot of great fantastical elements that blend into this story beautifully. The reason I threw the Lord of the Rings comparison into the fold is because of these awesome rock creatures who aide Noah in his task. These guys are 900 times more interesting than those lame trees from Lord of the Rings. I love the way they move, and their faces are so unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It’s just another example of awesome visuals that actually serve the story, something we rarely get in big budget films, so soak it in.
As superb as the look of the film is though, there’s no shortage of great characters as well. We got to start with the man himself, Russell Crowe. I really don’t have a whole lot to say. This is vintage Russell Crowe, and one of his best performances, up there with Gladiator and A Beautiful Mind. What impressed me most about the character though is how much he changes throughout the course of the film. Crowe is flawless in portraying a man so dedicated to fulfilling the Creator’s wishes, to someone who remains determined as ever, but you can see the gradual pain and torture all over his face. He is an extremely sympathetic figure, despite executing some pretty dark tasks. Without spoiling anything, there’s one particular shot I will never forget, as Noah sits in a dark corner of the ark that is an extraordinarily powerful image.
While Crowe is certainly the stand out here, there’s plenty of other great performances to go around. Jennifer Connelly reminds us all why she’s one of the most underrated actresses working today. Seriously Connelly, get better movies. She’s wonderful throughout, but there’s one scene in particular that really floors you as her subdued nature becomes very emotional. Emma Watson continues to shed the Hermione persona, and delivers a very engaging performance as Ila, a young girl Noah and his family take in after her family is killed. Noah’s three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, played by Douglas Booth, Logan Lerman, and Leo McHugh Carroll respectively are all very solid, and all have different strengths and weaknesses that are portrayed very distinctly. Anthony Hopkins is obviously great, playing Noah’s grandfather Methuselah, the old wise guy of the film. He doesn’t get much to do, but Hopkins makes his presence known when he can.
The other actor who was second only to Crowe for me though was Ray Winstone as Tubal-cain, the epitome of humanity’s corruption, and the main antagonist. He’s one evil son of a bitch, and Winstone is perfectly disturbing as this character. His last scene in particular is intense as hell, with the writers giving him some brilliant dialogue.
As great as this film is though, it’s not free of flaws. We’re talking about an epic picture well over two hours, so of course you’re going to hit some dry spots, but fortunately they are few and far between. And while I like the ending a lot, it’s a little too laid out and direct. They basically have a character come out and say, “Yeah, this is what the film is about.” That was irritating as I feel Aronofsky is better than that, and usually more subtle about his messages. One nitpick I also have to lay out is a scene between Methuselah and Ila, which resulted in a very convenient plot point. The film had done a good job of explaining the supernatural and magical elements up until that point. It’s not a big deal, but is slightly annoying.
You might be asking yourself, “Why wasn’t this released at Oscar time?” Unfortunately, it’s one of those cases where the controversy is probably too much, making it very unlikely to be nominated for awards, even if it did get released in December. Therefore, the studio probably just said, “Screw it, release it in March where we will make a crap load of money.” While I doubt this will be up for any major awards, I hope the cinematography and Clint Mansell’s fantastic score will be remembered.
Regardless of how many awards it will win, this is a film that will certainly stick with me for a while. It’s amazing Darren Aronsofsky can do something so small and character driven like The Wrestler, and then do a big sweeping epic like Noah, proving why he is one of the top three directors working in Hollywood today. And while the first half feels different from other Aronofsky films, the later part is very much him, just on a larger scale, as we watch a character completely unravel before our eyes. I’m shocked some of the darker elements were able to stay in, and even more surprised this got a PG-13 rating. Noah is that rare studio film that is allowed to take chances, something that comes along maybe once a year. It’s a movie going experience that demands to be seen on the big screen, and an absolute sight to behold.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10 (Really Great) — All Photos Credit: Paramount Pictures and Regency Enterprises.