|Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures.|
The picture is one of those type of mad visions that Hollywood once embraced, but is now typically too frightened to come near with a 10-foot pole. And yet, somehow, this film was made.
For starters, this is not a movie aiming for the faithful, nor does it provide much fodder for the doubtful. Much like Aronofsky's other works, the picture is a story of a character who pushes himself beyond a limit - in this case, physical and psychological - in order to reach his goal.
In the case of Noah, that goal is to please The Creator - the name repeatedly spoken, rather than God, during the film - whereas the characters populating Aronofsky's previous movies worshipped at the altar of success ("Black Swan"), discovery ("Pi") and drugs ("Requiem for a Dream"). "Noah" will probably be likened to "The Fountain," the director's 2006 critical and financial misfire (that I sorta liked, though I agree it's his weakest film) due to the religious themes that are frequently played out as fantasy or science fiction.
Russell Crowe gives his finest performance in some time as the titular figure, a decent man and environmentalist who is repulsed at how his fellow human beings have soiled the earth and mistreated its animals. He has visions from The Creator in the form of several dreams, during which flowers "grow from nothing" and the world is engulfed by water.
He discusses this vision with his grandfather, Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins, having a grand old time hamming it up), and decides to build an ark that will house all of God's creatures and only a few humans - he, his wife (Jennifer Connelly), their three sons and the orphaned girl whom they raised (Emma Watson, great as always).
Noah is assisted in building the ark and protected by a group of gigantic stone creatures known as The Watchers that seemed to have wandered away from a Guillermo del Toro picture on a Hollywood lot and accidentally ended up in this film, As special effects, The Watchers are impressive, but they feel more than slightly out of place in this movie.
Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone), a descendant of that famous fratricidal maniac, shows up with a large, unwashed army of violent men in tow who decide they want a ride on the ark as well, but Noah makes it clear that he ain't selling tickets. Drama ensues.
I've gotta admit, the series of sequences during which the ark is populated with creatures big and small - - especially a knockout scene with all shape and size of birds - are dazzling to watch. And Aronofsky's portrayal of The Great Flood is just as epic as it needs to be.
There are a few twists and turns in the film, including a stowaway on the ark and the thought-to-be barren Ila (Watson) becoming pregnant and leading Noah to go off the deep end, so to speak. The biblical story of Noah is played out in this film, but there's a fair amount of fantastical elements added and liberties taken, most of which work pretty well (for example, Ila's character did not appear in The Bible), while a few others not as much (the stone creatures).
All in all, "Noah" is well worth your time. It's an expensive, special effects-heavy Hollywood picture that leaves you with more to think about than most of the other blockbusters released during any given year combined. It has its flaws, but they are mostly of the excusable type that occur when a great director makes an attempt at an insane vision.
And while I wouldn't rank "Noah" with Aronofsky's best films - "Black Swan" or "Requiem for a Dream" - I wouldn't have wanted anyone else to have directed this movie. This is a film where big risks were taken and they mostly pay off.