If there’s one thing I love, it’s a good bit of controversy. I don’t necessarily to get involved personally, but watching the vitriol spew forth from both sides is about as sporting as I tend to get these days. And, if there’s a sure fire way to get Bible thumpers up in arms, it’s to make an adaptation of a Bible story. A lot of the controversy stems from the fact that Noah isn’t a beat-for-beat adaptation of the Genesis story. Contrary to popular belief, Noah is not based in biblical canon but is rooted much more firmly in apocryphal texts like the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Book of Enoch. So, if anyone tells you that Noah is inherently a bad film because it isn’t right-wing retread of a watered-down Sunday school story, I want you do me a favor and smack them so hard that the front of their head becomes the back of their head.
I admit that I had been looking forward to seeing Noah for a long time, and the fact that Darren Aronofsky declined to direct both The Wolverine and Robocop in favor of focusing on Noah at the very least reassured me that he was passionate about what can only be described as his pet project. Aronofsky’s signature bleakness of tone is here in abundance and the omnipresent sense of tension and dread works exceedingly well within the context of the story. The film is expertly paced as the overarching plot is smartly broken into more manageable and intimate pieces, allowing the audience to become attached to the characters- an absolute necessity for the sublimely engaging third act.
Noah stars Russell Crowe as the titular protagonist along with Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, and also features a cameo by Sir Anthony Hopkins as wise man Methuselah and Ray Winstone as the evil Tubal-cain. Crowe and Winstone in particular work beautifully against one another as the hero/nemesis dichotomy is explored to its potential, culminating in a hand to hand showdown between the two. The thing I love about the characters is that they’re both relatively reasonable (in the beginning, anyway) and Tubal-cain actually has a coherent motive rather than being cartoonishly evil for no other reason than the story necessitating the presence of a villain. Crowe’s Noah, likewise, is a complex and tragic character burdened with the survival of humanity. Noah might be Crowe’s best performance to date, in fact, and his portrayal of a man crushed by the burden and guilt and responsibility is incredibly moving, to say the least.
Noah is an action movie, but it’s the good kind of action movie where the action exists to serve the plot as opposed to the other way around. Too often we have big budget productions that are essentially fireworks displays threaded through a vaguely coherent narrative, but in Noah, there always a clear sense of purpose for the fight scenes and the audience knows exactly what the charters are trying to accomplish in each of the battle sequences. Not a single shot is wasted either. Aronofsky knows exactly when to show off his expensive set-pieces and when to show restraint, culminating in a tight and wonderfully focused story.
The plot is fairly straight forward but cleverly waits until the third act to show it’s trump card, so to speak. Once Noah’s family is on the ark and out at sea, things begin to spiral out of control quickly. We begin to wonder who the real antagonist actually is, and that feeling of powerlessness and being trapped with something that passively, malevolently hates you is a major factor in creating the dramatic atmosphere. Indeed, Aronofsky somehow manages to stretch out the tension to the breaking point during the final act, but in a way that keeps you on the edge of your seat as opposed to inducing frustration. Even during the denouement, Aronofsky still portrays Noah as a deeply troubled, tortured character, making him easily one of the most interesting and memorable protagonists this year.
I urge audiences not to dismiss Noah as some toothless Bible move like the recent Son of God, and instead take it for the intriguing sci-fi reimagining that it is. Aronofsky has proven himself, one again, to be one of Hollywood’s most visionary directors, which certainly gives me hope for the future, if nothing else. Speaking of the future, Noah has likewise given cause to look forward to other out-of-the-box Bible films, namely Exodus: Gods and Kings, directed by none other than the legendary Ridley Scott. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.
Rating: 4 out of 5