Ignoring all the religious connotations and storms, of which there have already been a few, Noah is a story that certainly lends itself to a cinematic adaptation. It is, after all, a story taught to children from a very early age, not because of the religious ideals it presents but because of the symbolism and all the cuteness of the animals going in two-by-two.
With a brief history of Genesis up to this point we learn that man has slipped further and further out of The Creator’s (who is never referred to as God) good graces. Only Noah (Russell Crowe) and his family are free of the sins of man’s hunger to destroy the earth. So, with visions plaguing him, Noah travels to his ancient grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins) who helps him realise he has been chosen to build an ark to save all the animals in creation as well as his family. But some men local to Noah’s ark building site, led by a sneering pantomime villain in the shape of Ray Winstone’s Tubal-cain, are aware of Noah’s plans and are determined to be onboard the vessel when the flood hits.
Director Darren Aronofsky has always been a filmmaker keen on a good dollop of symbolism, just see his Oscar nominated Black Swan as a prime candidate, and Noah certainly allows him to tap into that source of inspiration. There are thinly veiled messages of the greed and depravity of mankind that are sure to echo in today’s current social climate. Throw in some industrial fuelled environmental issues, not to mention a fairly obvious implication that we should all become vegans, and Aronofsky has plenty to say with his Biblical epic.
That said it’s not all doom and gloom. The first half of Noah is very much the story from your childhood. It’s filled with hope, critters crawling, flying and slithering around our heroes and even manages to find room for intimidating rock creatures, fallen angels known as Watchers, who seem plucked straight from a Ray Harryhausen or Jim Henson film.
It’s visually vibrant, the locations given a hint of Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth that perfectly lend themselves to the more fantastical elements of the story. This allows the film to become an often exciting adventure that refuses to pander to any literal adaptations of the source material. But in the second half, the flood hitting at around the mid-point, the story changes course towards a more family oriented drama and testing of Noah’s will to do The Creator’s bidding.
With the rest of humanity washed away we’re left with an almost existential question looming over the family’s heads. If one of the tiger’s was awake for the journey, all the animals were conveniently sedated for the ark’s floating moments, it could easily take on a Life Of Pi scenario.
The result is all the action and adventure is over in the first half of the film before dialling it down a notch, or ten, to create a test for Noah that you cannot help but feel should have come before he ventured down this damp path. That said the film maintains the interest over a bum-numbing running time thanks to a collection of powerful performances. Jennifer Connelly is typically dazzling as Noah’s wife, desperate to ensure his success but never at the expense of her children. Logan Lerman and Douglas Booth are both solid, the former cementing his conflicted credentials started in The Perks Of Being A Wallflower and the latter giving enough steely-eyed, bearded gravity to make him a shoe-in for a part in Game Of Thrones. Emma Watson, as Noah’s adopted daughter Ila, shines bright in the second half of the film, her desperation at the mounting implications of the pressures inside the ark, not to mention the genocide outside, bringing a powerful emotional core to the eye of this storm. But it is Russell Crowe who brings a typically grand performance to Noah. At first hopeful and cheery to his family before finding a gritted determination to succeed and finally realising that The Creator may not have his and his family’s best interests at heart. There is certainly a hint of the story of Abraham revisionism eking into Noah but it works in allowing Crowe to truly flex his acting muscles without ever dipping into the realms of operatic but rather brooding meditation.
Epic, ambitious and with enough Aronofsky styled imagery to make the religious connotations of Man Of Steel look like emoticons, Noah is a biblical blockbuster that, while flawed, is both exhilarating and thought provoking in equal measure.