Sunday, 6 April 2014

Film Review: Noah

      A big budget film of a well-known biblical tale, directed by one of the most interesting filmmakers working in Hollywood today, is guaranteed to receive all sorts of attention – both good and bad.

      In other hands, this could have been a disaster – either a generic Hollywood-ised action ‘re-imagining’ that takes too many liberties with the source material or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, a preachy and steadfastly literal interpretation of the story that we all know so well anyway. The end result is, rather refreshingly, something in-between, yet at the same time still capable of surprising you with the unique direction it has taken.

      Right from the opening credits you can tell that subtly is off the cards and a heavily stylised approach is in. From Clint Mansell’s booming score to the ominous introductory narration, Darren Aronofsky’s take is striking - both in terms of the visuals and the (at times) considerably dark subject matter. The result is like something you would get if you mashed the bible up with Lord of the Rings (yes, there are barbarian hordes and rock monsters that feature as a major part of the story!).

      Whilst in theory that sounds horrible, Noah actually manages to come across as a decent fantasy epic. It’s unmistakeably the story we know, but the inclusion of some nightmarish visuals, post apocalyptic desperation, violent battle scenes and frequent instances of man’s inhumanity toward his fellow man, is often hauntingly effective. Anthony Hopkins provides some light moments as an old man who can’t stop wittering on about berries, but the majority of the film’s runtime is played straight and serious – with more emphasis on the threat of the very human antagonist Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone) (and then later the family dynamic coming under strain) rather than the more obvious choice of dealing with the logistics of gathering and fitting two of every animal into a large floating box.

      As for the animals themselves, the film is very CG heavy - and yet the sheer scale and ambition in the various scenes that show swarms of critters descending upon the ark is often breathtaking. The time-lapse sequences are also a highlight – one in particular (which seems to deftly marry the idea of creationism and evolution) is a triumph. Aronofsky likes to straddle this ambiguity (Noah is clearly influenced by prophetic visions and there is often talk of ‘miracles’, but we never see ‘God’ and He is only ever referred to as ‘The Creator’).

      Whilst this works well in the context of the film, it’s unfortunate that both evangelical Christians and hardcore atheists are going to end up bitterly disappointed with the result, as the film repeatedly refuses to land on either side. And that’s not even mentioning the anachronistic clothing (hoodies, boots and patchwork jeans), the home pregnancy kit, convenient knockout gas, seemingly pro-vegetarian agenda and the aforementioned Transformer-like ‘Watchers’ - that are all further examples of elements that will rub many people up the wrong way.

      Despite all this, the sheer boldness of Noah makes it worth a watch. Russell Crowe is well suited in the lead and watching him square off against a growling Ray Winstone is a delight. Although her scenes are a touch melodramatic at times, Jennifer Connelly brings her A-game as Noah’s wife Naameh, and Logan Lerman impresses as conflicted son Ham (despite his accent occasionally slipping).

      Noah is likely to be one of the most divisive films of this year, but it’s undeniable that Aronofsky has imbued this (literally) age-old story with a fresh perspective. Even though this may well be his most accessible and mainstream movie yet, Noah is bold, daring and features some powerful imagery that will stay with you long after watching. 

6th April 2014

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