Review by Jane Freebury
A big screen treatment of the life of a key prophet of Judaism, Christianity and Islam is one helluva big undertaking, destined for controversy. Noah has already run into a bit of trouble in its international release. It has been banned in Indonesia and certain Muslim Gulf nations. Who knows what kind of response, from audiences—secular, sceptic or believer—awaits it here in Oz.
Any filmgoer who goes to see this epic with the intention of checking its religious credentials will find a curious stew. Director and co-writer Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, Pi, Black Swan) has the chutzpah to carry it all off, but has had trouble wrangling the different elements into a strong and solid whole.
During the early stages, things don’t travel that well. When Noah and his family encounter marauding Canaanites on the vast desolate steppes it’s not particularly urgent and compelling, and when the Watchers arrive things seriously teeter on the brink. These Watchers, stone CGI giants who look like extras who escaped from The Lord of the Rings, provide the family with protection, but the superhuman element robs the ark construction phase of drama. The moments when the birds, reptiles and beasts descend on Noah’s ark are magical, however.
Another area robbed of its dramatic potential is life on board the ark with all god’s creatures. We all remember vividly how much trouble it was wrangling a single tiger at sea in Life of Pi, but here a drug-induced sleep keeps the creatures docile. It doesn’t however stop tensions building between Noah and his family.
The family drama is primal and keenly felt, in particular between Noah (Russell Crowe) and his wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), and second son Ham (Logan Lerman) who realises it is destined he will never have a wife. Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone) and the depraved hordes who have missed out on being chosen people also take the fight to Noah but he remains strong despite the pressure, until his mission becomes dangerously fanatical.
The moment that Noah loses touch and he finds himself a stranger to compassion and love, things become really interesting—and Crowe is in great form here. Aronofsky and co-writer Ari Handel have taken liberties with the biblical text, and with others too for all I know, to explore the dilemma of a man torn between an obsession with principles and his humanity.
With this uneasy balance of human drama, action adventure and internal struggle, the image of a rudderless ark full of every creature known to man, bobbing around on the high seas until it comes to ground seems the perfect analogy for this epic from Aronofsky and his A-list cast. There are only a few shots heaven-wards, and with a $130 million budget, the producers will be praying that on release it all stays afloat.
In a capsule: An unwieldy mix of dramatic elements pinned to the mast of an ancient biblical story that comes to life when the battle over principle takes over.