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by Peter Sobczynski

"Ark De Triumph or Darren Almighty"
5 stars

If you were to sit down and try to dream up the most utterly unlikely large-scale film project of 2014, even the craziest dreamer would never have even dared to come up with the notion of a hugely expensive Biblical epic from the mind of Darren Aronofsky, the filmmaker behind such wildly audacious works as "Requiem for a Dream," "The Fountain" and "Black Swan. In fact, the current Hollywood production apparatus exists in its current form in large part to ensure that such potential flights of cinematic folly are stopped in their tracks as quickly as possible so as to make room for more overblown sagas in which oddly costumed dopes beat the stuffing out of each other while things blow up around them, all in the redoubtable miracle of 3D. Why would any theoretically sane and sober-minded studio take the kind of story in which the slightest deviation from the accepted text could inspire pickets and protests and place it in the hands of someone so determined to march to his own drummer (or the Kronos Quartet, if you will)?

And yet, "Noah" has arrived amidst a veritable flood of controversy and mixed signals from distributor Paramount Pictures suggesting that the studio is afraid that they have blown a ton of money on a film that is too strange and not nearly reverent enough to lure the devout audiences that helped make "The Passion of the Christ" into a blockbuster a decade ago. Whether it will prove to be a success from a financial standpoint is unclear. There is an excellent chance that it may indeed prove too odd for audiences that largely prefer their Bible films to be as bland and unchallenging as possible, as the recent success of such drags as "Son of God" and "God is Not Dead" have proven. From an artistic standpoint--the only one that anyone who doesn't own stock in Viacom should be concerned with--"Noah" is a genuine triumph that takes one of the best-known of all Bible stories and reinterprets it in fascinating and deeply personal ways that will resonate with viewers of all faiths. This is easily the best Bible-related movie to come along since Martin Scorsese's grand and similarly controversial "The Last Temptation of Christ" and arguably Aronofsky's most boldly invigorating work since the fabulous folly that was "The Fountain."

When we first meet Noah (Russell Crowe), he is a simple man living in virtual isolation with wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) and three sons who prefers to live in harmony with the natural gifts of God rather than squander them in the manner of the ruthless hordes descended from Cain. (That said, being Russell Crowe, he is still more than capable of kicking horde ass when necessary. One night, however, he begins to have powerful hallucinations suggesting some kind of apocalyptic event involving a flood and sets off with his family to visit his reclusive grandfather, Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins), to see if he can interpret the visions. Along the way, the group comes across a sacked village and rescue the lone survivor, a young girl named Ila and later comes across a number of enormous rock-encrusted creatures known as The Watchers (voiced by the likes of Nick Nolte and Frank Langella), who were banished to Earth by God himself and who yearn to once again get back into his good graces.

Eventually, Noah reunites with Methuselah and after chugging some hallucinogenic tea, he realizes that God is planning to cleanse the Earth of the wickedness that is mankind via a giant flood and wants Noah to construct a giant ark designed to hold two of every creature so that they may repopulate the planet once the waters eventually subside. Years pass and Noah and his family, with help from The Watchers, have all but completed construction when the animals begin arriving in droves to book passage. (This leads to Naameh delivering the film's funniest line--"Snakes are coming too?") Unfortunately, this attracts the attentions of those aforementioned hordes, led by the malicious Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone), the warlord who, as it turns out, murdered Noah's father when he was a child and who will do anything to get his hands on the ark even before he realizes its true purpose.

Even before the arrival of Tubal-cain and the rising waters, things are a bit tense in Noah's family. For starters, the now-grown Ila (Emma Watson) is meant to marry eldest son Shem (Douglas Booth) but since she knows that she is barren, she despairs that she will not be a proper wife to him. As for middle son Ham (Logan Lerman), he wants a wife of his own so that he can be a man but when Noah is unable to find one for him, he accuses his father of deliberately sabotaging him so that he will remain a child forever. Angered, he runs off into the woods and does encounter a girl in a Meet Cute that starts off horribly and goes downhill from there once the flood begins. With all of this going on, it almost comes as a relief when the flood finally arrives--nothing like an apocalyptic event to bring things into focus. Alas, things soon go hinky on the high seas as well with unexpected discoveries in both the ship's hold and in Ila's womb, none of which bode well for anyone's happiness.

Although the notion of Darren Aronofsky doing the story of Noah may sound preposterous at first blush, it actually makes a certain amount of sense in hindsight. After all, the recurring theme in virtually all of his films has been the idea of a seemingly ordinary person struggling to achieve the impossible--a mathematical equation revealing the existence of God, the perfect high, immortality, a comeback in the ring, success in the cutthroat world of ballet--as a way of achieving some form of transcendence and essentially destroying themselves in the process. That is certainly the case with "Noah" but the difference this time around is that even though Noah technically succeeds at pulling off the task at hand but in his mind, he has failed to live up to his end of the bargain. When he realizes that his alleged transgressions have ultimately made no difference, he is tortured by that knowledge and by the memory of the things that he did and was willing to do in the name of a God who is no longer as chatty as he once was. Ironically, it is once Noah and his family finally hit dry land in the final scenes (Spoiler Alert!) that he finds himself truly adrift.

From a technical standpoint, "Noah" is utterly amazing and utterly unlike any other Bible movie that you or I have ever scene. Using locations ranging from Iceland to Long Island, the film presents a largely barren world that has been so ruthlessly stripped of its natural beauty that it is no wonder that God would want to smite those responsible. And yet, through the lens of cinematographer and longtime Aronofsky collaborator Matthew Libatique, there is still an eerie beauty to the locations that is undeniably compelling. As for the ark itself, an actual creation built off of Long Island (and which ironically found itself in the path of Hurricane Sandy) to the dimensions specified in the Bible, it is also an arresting sight that presents perhaps the first screen iteration of Noah's Ark that actually looks like it was produced by ordinary people and not by a film production crew with vast and relatively unlimited resources. As for the visual effects, while some of the CGI animals may appear a bit dodgy, the scenes with the ark navigating the rough seas and the trippy imagery of Noah's hallucinations and the Watchers are genuinely spectacular and will take the breath away from the most jaded of moviegoers.

Under normal circumstances, the narrative of a biblical film is the least interesting aspect because most of the time, they tend to lack any sort of real dramatic nuance so as not to offend anyone. With "Noah," Aronofsky and co-writer Ari Handel have taken the basic story--which only comprises a couple of pages in the book of Genesis--and repositioned it so as to depict it not merely as an empty-headed spectacle but as a human drama that is as strikingly intimate on an emotional scale as it is physically enormous. Although some changes have been made to the story--Noah is certainly younger than he once was and the Watchers come from the Dead Sea Scrolls--the changes only help to illuminate Aronofsky's desire to look at Noah as a man and to see what happens what an ordinary person is charged with doing the extraordinary and the ways in which those events can shape the person, both good and bad, from that point on. IN his hands, the story has been made truly universal and even those with no working knowledge of the Bible can still fully appreciate the film and what it has to say.

This direct connection to audiences has been forged in no small part due to the extraordinary efforts of Russell Crowe in what is one of the very best performances of his career. For the first time in a while, he has been given a screenplay and character that has really challenged his undeniable but lately squandered talents and he proves himself to be more than up to the task. Unlike virtually every other leading man of note working today, Crowe looks and sounds like a plausible man of Biblical times and also manages to come across as vulnerable as well--the final scenes in which a drunken Noah is trying to come to terms with what he has done and was prepared to do are absolutely heartbreaking. The rest of the cast is strong as well, though Hopkins does chew the scenery a bit (then again, if you are playing Methuselah, a certain degree of overacting is probably to be expected) and Connelly (reuniting with Crowe for the first time since her Oscar-winning role in " A Beautiful Mind" and with Aronofsky for the first time since the slightly different "Requiem for a Dream"), though quite good, is not really given much to do by the screenplay. Then again, since her character barely exists in the Bible, that is perhaps to be expected.

Other than the vague waste of Connelly and the desperate attempted siege of the ark by Tubal-cain's men that represents the film's most ordinary-looking setpiece of CGI men and monsters slapping the stuffing out of each other, "Noah" is a constantly surprising and dramatically stirring work from one of our most constantly surprising and stirring filmmakers. While I can understand the studio's evident nervousness about what they are presenting (for a long time, it seemed as if they were not going to let film critics even see it in advance before scheduling screenings at practically the last possible second), my guess is that this is one of those films that will linger in the minds of viewers and ultimately last longer than most of the flash-in-the-pan spectacles of late. Smart, intelligent and soul-stirring in many different ways, "Noah" is a real triumph and is enough help temporarily restore one's faith, at least in the idea that real ambition is not completely frowned upon in Hollywood these days.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=23710&reviewer=389
originally posted: 03/27/14 16:24:03
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User Comments

2/18/18 Langano Unique take on a familiar story. 4 stars
2/13/17 morris campbell good religious movie hopeful not gloomy 4 stars
2/11/17 Horace Blount Fills in some of the gaps in the traditional biblical story 5 stars
7/20/15 Pammie Interesting, sometimes silly 4 stars
5/29/15 Pduvall192 DeMille and Heston are spinning in their graves...a disaster of biblical proportions! 1 stars
5/14/15 Bents Gets extra credit for originality and cinematography 4 stars
11/24/14 DeNitra good 4 stars
11/23/14 zenny Noah = Agent Smith. Think about it 4 stars
10/21/14 Richard Brandt Like a PETA wet dream. 3 stars
10/11/14 mr.mike Better than I expected. 4 stars
7/27/14 Quigley An engrossing and sometimes wondrous fantasy retelling of the Noah story. 4 stars
7/08/14 Mell Solid film, Darren and Crowe appealing to men rather than toddlers(most fiilms) 4 stars
4/12/14 alice how eating animals corrupted mankind. Amen to that ! 5 stars
4/04/14 turner One of the worst movies ever 1 stars
3/31/14 chaz A bible movie that omits or changes everything that's actually in the Bible. 1 stars
3/31/14 gc the j.r. tolkien version of the book of genesis 1 stars
3/30/14 Eric Powerful movie 4 stars
3/29/14 action movie fan noah missed the boat-dull lifeless souless movie 2 stars
3/28/14 jcjs bleak, drab, dark, not one smile, so bad it's laughable...cookie cutter slow bla bla bla 1 stars
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  28-Mar-2014 (PG-13)
  DVD: 29-Jul-2014

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