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The Filmaholic Reviews: Noah (2014)

Posted on the 21 April 2014 by Filmaholic Reviews @FilmaholicRvews

The Filmaholic Reviews: Noah (2014)

Not the end. The beginning of everything. 

The Lowdown: Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler, Black Swan) is a director who has guts. His latest creation, Noah, is a film the likes of which I have never seen. It is nothing short of a bold film that is guaranteed to spark conversation and debate and controversy. In fact, it already has. It isn’t so much a faithful retelling of the biblical story of Noah and his ark, but rather a big-budget spectacle that attempts to make the story accessible to believers and non-believers alike. It makes for an incredibly uneven viewing experience, but it is powerful at times, which is certainly helped by the strong performances, wrenching (if overwrought) human drama, and wondrous CGI.  
1. The Plot: After Adam and Eve at the Forbidden Fruit and created sin, they had three sons: Cain, Abel, and Seth. After Cain killed Abel, mankind was corrupted, and wickedness spread throughout the world. Only the descendants of Seth remained to restore mankind. Noah (Russell Crowe) is the last descendant of Seth. He lives with his wife, Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), and his three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. After Noah has a vision of mankind wiped out by a flood, he goes to see his grandfather, Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins), about the meaning behind this vision. On the way, Noah and his family discover a girl named Ila who is wounded but still alive, and they take her into their care. After meeting with Methuselah, Noah realizes that his mission is to preserve pure, innocent creatures for a new beginning, and to let the flood wash the sins of man away. This involves Noah building an ark to contain him, his family, and two of every animal. This task is accomplished with the help of the Watchers, a group of fallen angels that have taken on a massive rock form. However, self-declared king of the land, Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone) and his army threaten to board the ark. I will stop here with the plot, because revealing anything more may ruin the surprise of the film. Up to this point, the story is mostly familiar. However, this is only the first half of the film. It should come to no surprise that the writers take many liberties with the story of Noah in the second half of the film. However, the powerful element of human (melo)drama keeps the film engaging.  

The Filmaholic Reviews: Noah (2014)

The family that prays together...

2. The Characters:    The performances are one of Noah’s strongest elements. It takes great actors to be able to deliver material at this melodramatic a level in a convincing way. Of course, director Darren Aronofsky is no stranger to having characters in his films struggling with their inner demons, so he must have had a field day with material like this. Russell Crowe (Gladiator, A Beautiful Mind) is solid as Noah, a troubled man who was raised appreciating the gifts from the Creator, such as nature in its entire splendor, but then having to carry the burden of building an ark and watching mankind get swallowed up by a massive flood. Cue many long shots of Russell Crowe with a contemplative look on his face.
The Filmaholic Reviews: Noah (2014)

   However, Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson, and Ray Winstone are the scene-stealers in this film. Jennifer Connelly (Requiem for a Dream) is Naameh, Noah’s wife, and has been by Noah’s side through thick and thin, which must not have been easy. Connelly has one scene which, overwrought as it may be, shows just how great of an actress she is. Speaking of great actresses, Emma Watson (Harry Potter, The Perks of Being a Wallflower) is shaping up to become one. She plays Ila, the girl adopted by Noah’s family, who cannot bear children because of a nasty stomach wound she received when she was young. However, she is madly in love with Noah’s son Shem (Douglas Booth), but can’t give him a family. Ensuing scenes involve a great deal of waterworks, but Emma Watson reveals an intensity that she hasn’t before. 

The Filmaholic Reviews: Noah (2014)
Ray Winstone (Hugo, The Departed), as the wicked Tubal-cain, is a man corrupted with sin, but instead of painting him as super-evil for the sake of being evil, he is depicted as feeling abandoned by his Creator. Still, no one swaggers on the screen like Ray Winstone. His moments of brilliance shine through when trying to corrupt Noah’s son Ham (Logan Lerman).
The Filmaholic Reviews: Noah (2014)
Anthony Hopkins (The Silence of the Lambs) has an incredibly brief role as Methuselah, but it is a charming performance with a dash of humor thrown in. Methuselah also turns out to basically be the biblical equivalent of Yoda, so that's another plus.
The Filmaholic Reviews: Noah (2014)
Sadly, the rest of the cast is lackluster. Basically, the actors portraying Noah’s sons are bland and uninteresting. Douglas Booth, who portrays Shem, is just another pretty face on the big screen. The most he does is keep his tunic half-unbuttoned for most of the film. Ham, played by Logan Lerman (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) has the most complex storyline; he wants a wife, but Noah forbids him from doing so. Sadly, Lerman’s performance is stiff and whiny. A real shame given his great work in The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

The Filmaholic Reviews: Noah (2014)

Ham: Forever alone.

3. The Spectacle:    One of the stranger aspects of Noah is its heavy usage of CGI. I know that present-day Hollywood has a fixation on big-budget blockbusters with wall-to-wall special effects, but the story of Noah isn’t one that seems like it needs the blockbuster treatment.    While this may be true, that isn’t to say that the spectacle isn’t worth watching. CGI is used to create many striking and memorable sequences, the most gorgeous of which is a retelling of Genesis in a time-lapse method. Other images, such as humans clinging onto a large rock as a massive tidal wave engulfs them, are made all the more powerful watching them on a big screen.

The Filmaholic Reviews: Noah (2014)

It's like a disaster movie, except that it is good. 

   CGI is also employed for the Watchers, which are fallen angels who were encased in stone and now resemble a cross between the Ents from Lord of the Rings and Transformers made of stone. In fact, much has been made of these so-called “rock-Transformers”, but they don’t ruin the film as so many others have been quick to conclude.

The Filmaholic Reviews: Noah (2014)

On the other hand, these Transformers have already been ruined three previous times. 

4. A Modern-Day Parable:    Aside from treading the fine line between infuriating evangelicals and alienating atheists, the most interesting aspect of Noahis how the story of Noah is used as a modern-day parable, promoting the preservation of the environment and the wildlife.  The first key scene in the film is when one of Noah’s sons picks a flower, and Noah explains how the flower will bloom, release pollen, and cover the land with more flowers. It’s a simple scene, but the film goes further than that. In the beginning of the film, much of the environment is barren and lifeless. The ground looks charred and there is hardly a tree in sight.  

The Filmaholic Reviews: Noah (2014)

Don't destroy the environment. It's not hard to understand. 

One of the most awe-inspiring scenes in the film is when two of each animal board the ark. It may seem obvious that bringing two of each animal onboard and keeping them safe so that they can repopulate after the flood would be a metaphor for caring for the animals. The film goes further by juxtaposing that scene with a scene depicting a village where the inhabitants live in awful, overcrowded conditions, to the point where it is they who are acting like animals. Babies and women are kidnapped and traded for food, and live animals are torn apart and eaten raw. It’s not exactly a subtle way of getting the message across, but this scene is quite disturbing and will stay with you for a while.
The Bottom Line: Noah is a bold, bizarre, and refreshingly original film that combines elements from the Bible, disaster movies, environmentalist groups, and modern-day melodramas to create a unique viewing experience. Noah could easily have been just another faith-based film that would bring nothing new to the table. Instead, Darren Aronofsky had the guts to go and do something different. Sure, the CGI spectacle is obviously pandering to the masses, and the moral messages are tried but true, but it doesn’t all work. Some of it works (some great acting and CGI in this film) and some of it doesn’t (why does Shem have his tunic half unbuttoned in every scene he is in?), but I would say the positives outweigh the negatives. Despite what many user reviews may say, Noah isn’t blasphemous. As a film and as an experience, Noah is stunning.
Noah is property of Paramount Pictures, Regency Enterprises, and Protozoa Pictures. This review was written by me.
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Copyright © Filmaholic Reviews, 2014

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