The 400-Word Review: Noah
By Sean Collier
March 31, 2014
The reductive summation of Darren Aronofsky’s films: he makes movies about painful, individual struggles. Which matches up neatly with a story about a drug-addled, washed-up wrestler or a group of desperate junkies.
And not so neatly with a Biblical epic. The shocking thing about Noah, though, is that it does firmly fit in with the rest of the director’s output. And it’s pretty good, too.
Here, the figure from Genesis (Russell Crowe) is something of a separatist, living outside of a violent society with his family and his faith. When he has visions of an impending cataclysm, he seeks out his grandfather, Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins), for guidance. The message: build a big boat. Animals will show up.
External conflict arrives in the form of Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone), a bigwig among the corrupt who (oh yeah) just so happens to be the dude that killed Noah’s dad in the first reel. Internal conflict, meanwhile, erupts when Noah decides that God’s true will is for mankind to die out — meaning he has no intention of providing his family with the means to reproduce.
There’s a lot more in Noah then there is in the Bible, certainly; the existing tale is brief, and Aronofsky and co-screenwriter Ari Handel both fill in the blanks and take considerable artistic license. For better or worse — usually better in this case — it’s the only way to flesh an epic out of a brief tale.
The violence inherent in Noah’s task gives Crowe plenty to agonize over; I’d say that the result is the best performance I’ve seen from the actor, who can be inconsistent. Among his co-stars, Emma Watson — as Noah’s adopted daughter Ila — shines in a co-starring role.
Aronofsky seems to know that the day will be won or lost on his work, however. The script is more than serviceable (despite a few unnecessary detours); any period action epic, though, depends on its director to keep it from grinding into a slog. Fortunately, Aronofsky has no shortage of tricks up his sleeve, ranging from a series of genuinely awesome, frenetic montages to studious tricks of construction and framing. He also brings the unsubtle horror of the story — there’s an awful lot of death, y’know — into gut-wrenching focus.
There’s a bit of a slow warm-up after some opening fireworks, but generally, Noah is made into a winner by its director.
My Rating: 8/10
Aggregate Rating from CriticsChoice.com: 80/100
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark