Noah (2014) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
22Jul/140

Noah (2014)

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The Creator speaks in riddles and one man, Noah, can decipher them.  The world will be cleansed by water and its population destroyed to get a second chance.  Noah and his family begin constructing an ark that will preserve the chose species of the world, but do humans deserve to be among them?  Darren Aronofsky directs Russell Crowe in one of the lasting stories of the Old Testament.

Noah is available in some second-run theaters, for digital purchase, and coming soon to DVD.

Attracting the fewI loved film before I discovered Darren Aronofsky, but he was the first auteur to prove that some films carry the unmistakable stamp of their creators.  Two of my prize purchases in my explorations into cinema that wasn't part of the mainstream were his 1998 film Pi and his sophomore feature Requiem for a Dream.  The supplemental materials of those two films, both so firmly entrenched in the mad addictions of their characters, blend together a bit but one thing he mentions in one of the accompanying commentaries is that he hoped to make mainstream feature-films one day.

This shocked me a bit, an artist like this wanting to sell out?  But I eventually gathered more experience and knowledge, accepting that there are some people who make superb popcorn films, and others who will forever make weird independent features.  What's struck me about Aronofsky's career is how his career has perfectly followed that early desire and is one of the most successful directors of the new millennium.  He has never toned down or altered his manic focus on self-destructive obsessives.   At least, not until now.

Noah is a faithful adaptation of the violent and fantastical world that is glimpsed at in certain passages of the Old Testament.  Aronofsky takes the story seriously on its own terms, embracing images from religious texts that have been quietly shoved to the side for the tender face of Jesus.  This is a shame, because stories from the Old Testament serve as something of a template for the superhero films and epics of today, and still has a wealth of stories that deserve a proper adaptation (a feminist rendition of Samson and Delilah that kept the spectacle would make me swoon).  But that respect to preserving the weirdness of those six-armed angels and flaming swords, while incendiary to some groups, ends up yielding just another big-budget spectacle of massive CGI armies flailing against one another.  It's conventional, a word I never thought I'd use when talking about Aronofksy.

The spectacle gets a bit wearrying as time goes on, even with some clever reveals of the destruction.

The spectacle gets a bit wearying as time goes on, even with some clever reveals of the destruction.

But that realization, cemented around the half-way point, does not help the conflict in me about Noah at all.  Despite the disappointment I felt watching the long battle scenes or even the violent hedonism of the damned in some of Noah's visions, there are so many scenes that defy the simple storytelling usually required of massive productions.  Noah contains a history of the universe that recalls Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life in terms of scope, but his jittery, constantly evolving world with its multitude of species captured in a dizzying montage of frames is astonishing.  Our planet, as we understand it now or how Noah's characters do, is always going through some violent stage in transitioning to the next, even with the hand of a Creator guiding the way.

That notion of evolutionary creationism being seriously presented is not something we're likely to see in any Transformers film any time soon.  Nor is the deft touch Aronofsky employs in the special effects.  The angels are remarkable creations, when ethereal they have the unmistakable presence of CGI flame given the barest of human forms, and as they fall into their earthy bodies take on the stilted and partially animated flare of the skeletons who fought Jason and his Argonauts.  It helps drive home just how devastating the fall was to these creatures who could flow through the cosmos so freely and now stuck moving as imperfect shapes.

I also loved how the angels, in their rocky forms, are voiced by an old guard of cinema with the likes of Frank Langella and Nick Nolte.  On the human side of things, Emma Watson and Anthony Hopkins are both excellent, embodying the anxiety and fiery hope of the future by embracing some pleasures of the present.  But Ray Winstone's exquisite performance is the conflicting heart of Noah.  Winstone plays one of the descendents of Cain, and has led the world to ruin but refuses to let the ark of salvation float on without him.  His character provides both the monstrous and human sides of Noah, and is less a retelling of the ant and the grasshopper and more the ant and the locust.  He can't help destroying because that is what he is, warts and all, and Winstone carries himself with a fierce determination that recalls the pride Lucifer still felt as he rose to reclaim himself after the fall.

Russell Crowe's performance is consistent as always, but devoid of the raging emotion of images and deeds around him.

Russell Crowe's performance is devoid of the raging emotion of images and deeds around him.

With all these highs, and they are many, I still could not shake the too-often sensation that the film played the tale too safe.  Part of this has to do with the special effects battles I mentioned before, but also some of the set-pieces of the tale.  Is it possible that Aronofsky could have provided a fresh take on the arrival of the creatures who will take residence of the ark?  At first it seems yes, but if you've seen one mass of animals boarding an ark, you've seen them all.  I liked some of the little touches, like learning how the humans could have possibly dealt with such a task, but the scale felt less like the arrival of a gigantic destiny and more another effect to fit into the film.

But I might have been able to look past those flaws and provide a recommendation if not for Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly's performances.  Everyone else is tuned to the big supernatural display, but the two are as stoic and dependable as always, and that's a distraction compared to the surrounding film.  Noah has the obsession so familiar to Aronofksy's films, but Crowe and Connelly allow too much of the visuals around them to speak for their characters instead of speaking up for themselves, which has the strange effect of drawing attention to their dullness.

This is not a warning to stay away from Noah by any means.  Much like The Master, Aronofsky has created a film of great moments that did not coalesce into something more, and is worth watching for only those.  It can't all be berries and smiles, but a few less violent multitudes at war wouldn't have hurt either.

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Tail - NoahNoah (2014)

Directed by Darren Aronofsky.
Screenplay written by Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel.
Starring Russell Crowe.

Posted by Andrew

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