The best way I can describe “Noah” is emotionally ambitious. It takes a familiar tale and shines a new light on it by highlighting Noah’s spiritual quandary. In the film—which takes liberties with the biblical story—he’s a vegan prophet who grapples with doing God’s will while balancing the needs of all of humanity, particularly his family. The meaning of faith and the consequences of adhering to that faith are the film’s main thrust, but as interesting as that is, the movie feels like one thing when it is addressing the spiritual and quite another—possibly a “Lord of the Rings” flick—when it is in action movie mode.
The movie starts at the beginning. Literally.
After a quick recap of Old Testament highlights—the Creation, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and Cain vs Abel—we meet Noah, the last descendent of Adam and Eve’s good hearted son Seth. The world he lives in is a dangerous place, ruled by Cain’s bloodthirsty bloodline but Noah (Russell Crowe) and family (Jennifer Connelly, Douglas Booth, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman and Leo McHugh Carroll) live peacefully as nature loving, proto hippies. That is, until Noah has a disturbing apocalyptic dream. Consulting with his grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins) he determines The Creator wants him to build an ark and laden it with two of every creature on earth in advance of a great flood that will destroy mankind and the violence they perpetrate. It’s ultimate Mulligan—a do over for the planet—but Noah will have to make some troubling decisions to fulfill God’s will.
Some may criticize the movie for not being reverent enough, but Aronofsky treats the story as a living breathing thing and not an artifact from another time. The addition of a spectacular creation of the world sequence, as narrated by Noah, may annoy Creationists, but is a moving and beautiful retelling of the biblical story.
Aronofsky may play fast and loose with Noah’s story, but underlines the spirituality that is at the very heart of the tale as evidenced by the Seven Days of Creation scene.
He’s also aided by a terrific performance from Crowe.
Crowe’s been in a bit of a slump in recent years. The dangerous, complex actor of movies like “Gladiator” and “A Beautiful Mind” seemed to have taken a backseat to the performer who thought making “The Man with the Iron Fists” was a good idea. “Noah” is a nice reminder of Crowe’s delicate mix of fearsome masculinity and subtle sensitivity and his tortured performance hits Noah’s zealotry square on the head.
But having said that, Aronofsky moves in mysterious ways. He shot the epic almost entirely in close up and the flood scene could have used a bit more Cecil B. DeMille. Aronofsky means this to be a personal story of a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders, but it is still an end of the world movie. Despite the occasional Peter Jackson flourish—like the stone giants The Watchers and sweeping crane shots—“Noah” doesn’t feel as big as it should. It has big ideas, but the expected sweeping visuals aren’t there.
“Noah” is a thought-provoking take on a familiar story that will keep you guessing until the end credits roll.