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Flood and blood - Noah'

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Biblical epic attempts to fill in the gaps

There are certain filmmakers whose resumes surprise us, either by being unexpectedly lengthy or unexpectedly short. Darren Aronofsky definitely falls into the latter category. He's the sort of guy that I always think is more prolific than he actually is. With his latest, the Biblical epic 'Noah,' his total number of directed features is all the way up to six.

I could have sworn he had made more movies than that.

As a fan of Aronofsky's work, I must admit to having had a high level of curiosity going into 'Noah.' Yes, I had heard about the various controversies surrounding the film, but mostly, I wanted to see what a guy with Aronofsky's experimental bent was going to do with a universally known story especially one that is just four chapters long. After seeing the film? 

I'm still not sure what to think.

Noah (Russell Crowe, 'Winter's Tale') is one of the last descendants of Seth, one of the sons of Adam and Eve. The sons of Cain are overrunning the globe, industrializing and destroying as they go. Noah and his family wife Naameh ('Winter's Tale') and sons Shem (Douglas Booth, 'Romeo and Juliet'), Ham (Logan Lerman, 'Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters') and Japheth (Leo McHugh Carroll in his feature debut) live off the land, taking only what they need to survive.

But Noah soon finds himself plagued with visions sent from the Creator visions of the entire world being swept clean of wickedness by a Great Flood. So he and his family set out to see his grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins, 'Thor: The Dark World'); along the way, they rescue an injured young girl named Ila (Emma Watson, 'The Bling Ring') who joins in their journey.

With Methuselah's help, Noah realizes that he is to build an ark so as to rescue the innocent (i.e. the animals) from the Creator's wrath. Miracles ensure to allow the building to begin including the participation of the imperious Watchers, fallen angels who have become encrusted with rock and mud as punishment for disobeying the Creator.

But the sinister and sinful Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone, 'Ashes') has other ideas, threatening Noah and his family and demanding to be given his due tribute up to and including a place on the ark.

Oh and then there's a flood.

This is a very difficult film to review, if only because of the vast divide between the things that worked and the things that didn't. 

First, what worked: Aronofsky showed glimpses of his ability to capture the epic in 'The Fountain,' but we'd never seen that sense unleashed before now. We already knew he could do the dark twists of intimacy of which this story has plenty. Visually, it has some really stunning moments; for instance, the Flood is grippingly intense.

Crowe is rock-solid as Noah, bringing an intensity that both elevates and humanizes the character. He wears his burden on the surface, never burying the trials he experiences. Emma Watson shows remarkable depth as well, while Jennifer Connolly does her typical good work.

As for what didn't work? The story of Noah is short, so the film needed to fill some gaps; it essentially invents material to do so. Some of it works, but some of it the giant rock monster Watchers, the giant sword-and-sandal fantasy battles, the occasional overreliance on CGI just doesn't. Not to mention some really hard, really uncomfortable logistical questions that come up toward the end.

Noah's sons are blandly pretty and utterly inconsequential; even when they're important parts of the narrative, it's hard to care. And Winstone is all brutal bluster as Tubal; he's so two-dimensional as be rendered cartoonish.

So did I like 'Noah?' I'm still not sure. There were aspects of it that I liked very much; the aesthetic was a visual treat and Crowe gives a fantastic performance. There's an excellent movie buried in there somewhere. Unfortunately, that gap-filling need led to some unnecessary additions that proved cumbersome the 139-minute runtime could have stood to be trimmed by a good 20 minutes.

But one thing is for certain you'll leave the theater talking about it, which is a pretty high compliment for any piece of creative expression.

[2.5 out of 5]

Last modified on Tuesday, 01 April 2014 15:58


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