By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Talk about a character arc (or, in this case, ark).
Noah is a Biblical disaster story (the Biblical disaster story) that’s based on, which is to say, inspired by, the spare narrative in the Book of Genesis that addresses the flood of questions we have whenever we confront the primal tale of Noah and his ark.
But this is no bigger-is-better Hollywood epic -– no generic “Bible movie” — even though it is the first major-studio Bible-derived film in decades.
Rather, it’s an expectation-subverting drama that truly challenges the audience, regardless of what values or beliefs they bring in with them.
Russell Crowe plays Noah, who sees visions of an apocalyptic deluge and takes measures to protect his family from the imminent flood.
After his encounter with God (referred to throughout the film only as The Creator), in aspiring to goodness, he feels alienated from a world bathing in evil.
Jennifer Connelly plays Naameh, Noah’s wife, the mother of his three sons (thus are the stars of A Beautiful Mind reunited); Anthony Hopkins is Methusaleh, Noah’s grandfather; and Emma Watson is Ila, Noah’s adoptive daughter; and they’re joined in the two-legged supporting cast by Nick Nolte, Frank Langella, Logan Lerman, Ray Winstone, and Mark Margolis.
As the story goes, God chooses Noah (but, in this version, via hallucinogenic visions) as a good man who, along with his family, is estranged from the rest of disappointing humanity to build an ark on which he can rescue two of each species, while the creator deals with the wicked by opening the literal floodgates.
But Noah comes to fear and believe that God intends to wipe out his bloodline as well.
The director, Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan, The Wrestler, Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain, Pi), who co-wrote the screenplay with his frequent collaborator, Ari Handel, and served as one of the producers, takes understandable — even necessary — creative liberties with the Old Testament narrative and creates a fantastical world for us to behold, one which includes multi-armed angels.
But it starts off by taking Genesis seriously, even literally, and accepting the events described in the Bible as true. Then it adds nuances galore to bring those events to vibrant life.
In focusing on the place of faith and hope and family in Noah’s life, as well as his essential environmentalism, the skepticism that Noah’s raters of-the-lost-ark peers express about his behavior gives the film a timeless quality which lends to its universality and contemporary resonance.
The animals are rendered via CGI special effects, contributing to a movie that works not only as a spectacle full of jaw-dropping visuals but also as a psychological/philosophical drama.
Crowe plays Noah (really, the only character in the film to even approach three-dimensionality) as a dark, driven, deeply conflicted man of faith, one whose abiding angst, which proves fresh and fascinating, has him veering from fear for the welfare of his loved ones to a fanatic desire to do the right thing without betraying his faith to understandable out-and-out survivor guilt.
It’s a performance to Crowe about.
Purists and pious moviegoers may balk, but in its moral complexity and thematic depth, Aronofsky’s film offers ample food for thought as an exhaustive character study, venturing as it does well beyond the boundaries of what we have gotten used to over the years in the way of staged and dramatized Bible stories.
So we’ll climb aboard 3 stars out of 4 for this ambitious theological epic. A disaster story but certainly no disaster, Noah offers Darren Aronofsky’s reinterpreted take on the familiar Bible yarn that’s designed to be enjoyed, processed, and argued about by believers and nonbelievers alike.