Friday, March 28, 2014

A Reel Review: NOAH

The question facing director Darren Aronofsky in his big-budget adaptation of Noah’s Ark was a daunting one; how do you make one of the most simplistic, and most well-known tales into something that doesn’t retread old ground ( boring), or at the very least, something cinematic? Aronofsky’s answer, and approach in his NOAH, was to focus on the human side of the story while re-imagining the core elements; an approach so simple, its genius.
Thousands of years ago, the world has become a barren wasteland…populated by the descendants of Cain and Abel. As the wicked grow in numbers, Noah (Russell Crowe) has visions of a cataclysmic flood sent by The Creator. Seeking answers, he and his wife (Jennifer Connelly), sons, and adopted daughter (Emma Watson) seek the advice of Noah’s grandfather (Anthony Hopkins). Aided by a band of fallen angels called The Watchers, Noah and his family begin constructing a massive ark to save the innocent…the beasts of the world, from the world-ending floods.

NOAH is a film made of two halves; one part fantasy, and one part spiritual journey. The film centers around Noah, who undertakes a near-impossible quest which tests his faith over and over. Surrounding that are fantastical elements which director Darren Aronofsky uses to drive Noah towards his goals. The visions from the The Creator come in dreams and stunning visual montages and the fallen angels, The Watchers appear as stone giants. It all begins to feel like an epic fantasy film, complete with a few battles (led by the self-proclaimed king, played brilliantly by Ray Winstone), but what keeps it from become all spectacle is the grounded nature of the film. The human side is never left behind; from Noah’s struggles with his choices to the hard decisions members of his family have to take…NOAH never leaves anything behind.
Once the floods come and the wicked are wiped out (one of the most subtle, and horrifying mass-genocide sequences ever filmed), Noah and his family are alone on the ark, and here is where Aronofsky goes for the emotion. A few clever twists and turns split the family apart, with Noah being so fiercely dedicated to his heavenly task that he actually starts to become a villain in the film. All this culminates in an unexpected gut-punch of emotion which is sure to bring just as many tears as raindrops. NOAH suddenly becomes a family drama amidst the grand spectacle, and the way Aronofsky gets there makes NOAH a tremendous journey to take.

Aronofsky has imagined and realized a beautiful looking film. The cinematography feels classic and you never want to look away. The Watchers are amazing to look at and are rendered in the old-fashioned, stop-motion-puppet style. The visual montages are stunning and go a long way in the storytelling.
Acting is brilliant. Russell Crowe gives one of his best performances; committed and tortured at the same time. Jennifer Connelly gets a little shortchanged but eventually gets a few great tearful moments. Anthony Hopkins and Ray Winstone are their usual excellent selves, but the film is stolen by Emma Watson. Watson unexpectedly becomes a strong focus in the film, and she shoulders the burden perfectly. She gives her best performance yet in her young career, and serves as the powerful emotional center of the film. With the film taking place over a decade in time, Noah’s sons are played by several actors, with Logan Lerman turning in a great role as the middle child.

With so many surprises on the oldest tale in the book, Aronofsky manages to make you think about what you are seeing, and to look beyond the spectacle and new imaginings. Those who are hearty enough to make that journey will be rewarded greatly; NOAH is a film anchored in human nature, belief, and great storytelling


1 comment:

  1. Good review. Dom and I just saw the movie, and I was interested in your take on it. I wholeheartedly agree about the cinematography. I am usually not focused at all on visuals in a film as I tend to be much more interested in dialogue, but I thought this was visually spectacular. I really enjoyed how very small biblical details (e.g., Tubal-Cain) were developed into a major part of the story. I thought Emma Watson was brilliant.

    For those very attached to the biblical story, this will be a disappointment bordering on sacrilege. Some folks I know went to see it and were shocked. As you probably know, besides some rain and a boat this has almost no resemblance to the bible at all. I'm perfectly fine with that.

    Noah as a an action hero? I like it.


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