7 April 2014

NOAH- Review

If they gave out awards to filmmakers for their performance of press and publicity duties, Darren Aronofsky would certainly be in the running for the best of the year so far. Faced with backlash from Christians and the more secular member of his fanbase alike, he’s been dropping truth bombs left, right and centre, which goes to show that if nothing else, Noah comes from a thoughtful and open-minded filmmaker.

While I think that we can safely declare a moratorium on spoilers for the story of Noah’s ark, this remains a more radical and surprising biblical movie than anything we’ve seen since Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ. Without ever paying lip-service to the G-man, Aronofsky casts Russell Crowe as a family man who is plagued by visions of an apocalyptic flood by “the Creator”. With this in mind, Noah accepts the duty of creating a stronghold to protect the innocent creatures of the world, and keep out the wicked.

It might sound familiar when boiled down in such a way, there’s really no understating the magnitude of what Aronofsky has done for the biblical genre. That’s not to say that I think it’s a masterpiece, but as the first one through the door, the director is going to take the brunt of what usually follows when entrenched audiences are asked to give something new a chance. Before now, nobody has had the balls to turn the fantasy parables of the Old Testament into overtly Lord of the Rings-style genre fare.

And while this might be Aronofsky’s least re-watchable film since Requiem for a Dream, (albeit for entirely different reasons) it still succeeds in that ambition more often than it falls short. Not only does it throw in an antagonist in the form of Ray Winstone’s Tubal Cain -the film's best performance, with just the right amount of physical heft and cunning intellect to escape the jaws of panto villainy – but it even dares to ask whether Noah, committing a terrible act of omission for noble reasons, might be a bigger danger to the continuance of creation than the scum who are meant to be washed away in the flood.

This gives Russell Crowe a lot to chew on, but perhaps he chomps on it just a little too much. It’s tough to think of anyone else who would measure up to the star power and big performance that a Charlton Heston would have given in this kind of film, back in the day, but Crowe seems so eager that he sometimes overtakes credulity. As others have observed, he seems to be revelling in that 1970s Marlon Brando period of his career, making odd choices of role, and even odder acting choices once he gets there.

He brings much the same gravitas to Noah as he did to Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood, and the results are often similar. It’s a film that sometimes threatens to be swept away by its cast, to the point where it might have been better if the supporting cast was largely unknown. Emma Watson makes a very good showing as Noah’s adoptive daughter, but Logan Lerman and Jennifer Connelly both struggle to make much of underwritten roles. Model-turned-actor Douglas Booth remains an uninteresting Bird’s Eye potato shape of an actor, and Anthony Hopkins goes too far the other way, being too interestingly batty for the film to hold water when he’s on-screen.

Just as distracting are the Watchers, the film’s Tolkienesque answer to the Nephilim- they’re giant rock monsters who answer the practical question of how Noah and his family built an ark big enough for two of every animal all by themselves. Given voice by the likes of Frank Langella, Nick Nolte and Mark Margolis, the film goes a bit “Eh?” every time they’re required to hold a conversation, but their presence becomes hugely exhilarating when Tubal’s raiders mount a rain-soaked siege on the ark.

Noah may be the most unusual big-budget movie of the year so far, but for all of its flaws, it may also be 2014’s most singular and unique blockbuster. It picks up Peter Jackson’s habit of over-indulgent editing at the end, but everything else that it borrows from The Lord of the Rings in terms of staging and style should serve to revolutionise a long stagnant genre, if Hollywood learns the right lessons from it. It’s at once a monumental folly and a thought-provoking spin on an iconic tale- in short, when we do next see a true masterpiece in this genre, it’s this one that have kicked down the door.

Noah is now showing in cinemas and IMAX screens nationwide.
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If you've seen Noah, why not share your comments below? Also, which Bible stories do you want to see given the Aronofsky treatment next?

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch

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