********* 6 out of 10 *********
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Actors: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson
The thing with movies based on religious themes or stories is that they are prone to controversies. One cannot forget the amount of frenzy Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ and Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ created, nor the furore around Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code and its subsequent movie representation. There are sections within the society ready to go in a state of tizzy if someone does not give the old religious tales the treatment which they believe to be the absolute truth. Darren Aronofsky’s Noah does not have Jesus Christ as the central character, but it is still a Biblical tale and so subject to similar arguments. So as it turns out, Paramount Pictures had alternate versions of the film tested, supposedly without the knowledge of Aronofsky, which led to rifts between the director and the studio, though it is the director’s version which has been released as the final cut. The feedback from the largely religious audience during these screenings was tilted towards criticism, and the final cut too has not gone well with this group, given its deviation from the holy scriptures. But there would be a large section of the audience, I believe, who would not have come to the theatre for a re-enactment of a Biblical tale, but to watch an entertaining movie, wherever the source material may have come from. For them, the deviation of the story may not be the problem, but the rather longish one-dimensional approach of Noah could be.
Noah is inspired by the Biblical tale of Noah and his famous ark. It begins with a young Noah seeing the atrocities of man firsthand. Years later, Noah (Russell Crowe), living with his wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) and their three sons, has a disturbing dream which is a message from God. God plans to drown the Earth, and wipe out mankind. Noah realises his own purpose in this plan; he has to save the innocent animals so that they can survive the deluge and live in the new world. From thereon begins the tumultuous journey of Noah, of building a gigantic ark to save the animals, of warding off the evil man Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone) who wants to board the ark, and of understanding and doing God’s bidding, each of which heaps one burden after another on Noah.
Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel have collaborated on the story of Noah; their second collaboration in the writing department after The Fountain. Director Aronofsky has worked on movies with some dark and disturbing tones in the past, and these movies have been met with resounding acclaim and success, be it Requiem for a Dream or The Wrestler or Black Swan. The story of Noah on the surface of it seems like a heroic tale of a man who saved civilisation, but Aronofsky in his typical fashion has carved something more sinister out of it. The film Noah narrates the tale of a man heavily burdened at each step, who sees death around him, who sees greed and cruelty of man everywhere, who has been told to carry out the mission of God though a lot is left for him to interpret. As Aronofsky himself said, that he saw Noah as “a dark, complicated character” who experiences “real survivor’s guilt” after the flood.
While Aronofsky’s version of the character Noah has a creative charm about it, the movie on the whole lacks any of it. With a runtime of 138 minutes, it is way too long for a story of which much is already known about. The biggest missing piece in this Biblical tale is the set of dialogues that make such movies feel larger-than-life. No great speeches, no roaring talks, no significant words of wisdom, that are really worth remembering. The movie moves forward in quite a one-dimensional manner, with only the events on the Ark once the lands have been flooded bringing out something new and adventurous for the audience. If one were to however view the film without the Biblical references, then it does bring out a discussion on religious fanaticism; what is God’s message to us, what does He see as fair and unfair, these are some of the thoughts that float through the mind during the film. As for the visual effects, there is nothing much new that one wouldn’t have seen before, and specifically the presence of the animals on the Ark could have been shown in greater detail.
Once Aronofsky decided to make a tale of a heavily burdened Noah, he could not have cast anyone better than Russell Crowe for this role. The man has played the fallen hero so many times before! Crowe makes Noah brave and afraid at the same time, he makes him heroic and a coward, but most importantly, he makes him a weary man who has been assigned a task too big for his shoulders and is grappling with the ramifications of it all. It may not be there with his best performances (for he has given so many outstanding performances in the past), but Crowe delivers another professional act, in creating Aronofsky’s version of Noah. And joining him, is his memorable co-star from A Beautiful Mind, Jennifer Connelly. It’s been a while seeing Connelly in a mainstream movie playing a role worthy of her talent, and so the joy is doubled on seeing her alongside Crowe. As Noah’s wife, she plays the anchor in his life, his friend, and his advisor. With little to do in the first half of the film, her role broadens once the Ark is afloat and unplanned events start to occur, where she delivers yet another fine performance.
The film also boasts of a young cast which includes Emma Watson, or for many, still Hermoine Granger. It has been three years since the last Harry Potter film but it would still take time for us to get used to accepting these actors as “Muggles”. Daniel Radcliffe has been working hard on recreating his image with a host of new characters and movies, and so is now Emma Watson. In Noah, she is a lost child found and raised by Noah and Naameh, and has a critical role to play in the second half of the film. Watson puts in an emotive performance, shredding away the images of Hermoine, and displaying the depth of her acting. More good work should follow from her. Other young actors, Logan Lerman and Douglas Booth, too put in a decent shift. Anthony Hopkins though feels wasted in the role of Noah’s grandfather, while Ray Winstone does provide a bit of variety with his evil greedy character.
Overall, Noah manages to stay afloat but this won’t be counted in the same league as Aronofsky’s past works. It is the first time that Aronofsky has worked on a big-budget film, and would be interesting to see where this movie lands up on the box-office charts. God after all has a hand to play in this one!