The story of Noah and his Ark has always been a puzzling one for me, and I'm sure for many Christians and non-Christians alike. How could a loving and merciful God be so angry with the wickedness of man that he would create such a cataclysmic event to destroy mankind?
"Noah" is the biblically-inspired film director Darren Aronofsky and his co-writer Ari Handel set out to make many years ago. Armed with a budget of $160 million and a set in upstate New York, Aronofsky has brought this amazing epic to life in grand style. Whatever your preconceptions are regarding this tale, religious or otherwise, "Noah" is spectacular to look at and beautifully acted.
Russell Crowe was not Aronofsky's first choice as Noah, but I believe he is the best. It's Crowe's most outstanding performance since "Gladiator", and his aged cragginess enhances his appearance as this man faced with such a daunting task. After a vision comes to Noah of an impending doom --- a great flood which will destroy his world and its inhabitants --- he must construct an ark to house his family and two of every creature on earth.
It's a mighty undertaking, and one which Noah, descendant of Seth, is forced to accept. He has his devoted wife, Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) and three sons, Shem (Douglas Booth), Ham (Logan Lerman) and Japheth (Leo McHugh Carroll) to aid him, along with Ila (Emma Watson), a young woman whom Noah and Naameh rescued as a little girl.
A large part of what transcends "Noah" from a good movie to a great one is the cast. Not only does Crowe have one of his better portrayals on film, but Connelly does, as well. Rumor has it that Aronofsky was considering Julianne Moore, but after watching Connelly, it's difficult to imagine another actress as Naameh. She is supremely moving in a very understated manner. Her love for Noah, though great, doesn't stand in her way of defending her sons and Ila. It's a lovely performance.
Ray Winstone stars as Tubal-cain, a delicious stroke of genius for this evil nemesis of Noah's. He's just maniacal enough --- not too much --- but we see in him all of the rotten attributes of man which have so angered God. Also on hand is Anthony Hopkins hamming it up as Methuselah, Noah's grandfather, a wise old sage who grants Naameh's prophetic wish.
Some may opine that the animals in "Noah" come off too digitalized, but the creatures actually take a back seat to the humans in this movie. Aronofsky didn't want the two-by-two aspect of a children's book here, so the animals come to the ark en masse. It's a rather touching scene, even if it is all computer generated.
Matthew Libatique's cinematography is breathtaking, aided magnificently by the ark design by production designer Mark Friedberg, and built at the PlantingFieldsArboretumStateHistoricPark in Oyster Bay, New York. It took the crew five months to erect the first 170 feet, the rest was completed digitally.
It was an incredible feat, which surely complements this massive imagining of Noah and his ark. Not everyone will appreciate Aronofsky's efforts, nor will they agree with his depiction, but "Noah" is a masterful rendering of a tragic but beautiful story.
Opinion: See It Now!
The story of Noah's Ark always fascinated me as a child when I saw an artist's rendering of the animals, walking two-by-two, as they boarded the massive structure that vaguely resembled a boat. Now, many years later, writer/director Darren Aronofsky ("The Wrestler", "Black Swan") brings the biblical tale to the big screen with the help of a massive crew, and a talented cast led by Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson and Ray Winstone.
As the myth goes (there has never been any scientific evidence of a flood that engulfs the entire planet), God was so displeased with the blatant wickedness and sins of mankind, he decided to wipe out most of the human population. Only Noah (Crowe) and his family, plus two animals of every species are allowed to live so they could repopulate the Earth.
Of course, there are such large logistical holes in this story that one would have to have an unwavering faith in the Bible for it to hold any water, no pun intended. Surely not all of ancient humankind was evil or deserved to drown in an apocalyptic flood. One young girl named Na'el (Madison Davenport), befriended by Noah's second son, Ham (Logan Lerman), evidently represents all the good people that did not survive. Her demise in the film sparks a major conflict between Noah and Ham, so much so that Ham sides, at least for a time, with Noah's major antagonist, Tubal-cain (Winstone).
Aronofsky's "Noah" spends less time on the part of the fable that most people are familiar with, namely the boarding of the animals and the flood itself, than he does on the spiritual side of Noah, the man, and his own personal struggles His turmoil concerns what he perceives as God's mission for him, versus his personal feelings involving his family.
The early part of the movie features the preparation and building of the ark, which could not have been accomplished without the assistance of gigantic stone creatures called Watchers, two of them voiced by Frank Langella and Nick Nolte. This could have been shortened, as could the battles between the Watchers and Tubal-cain's horde.
The real strength of "Noah" is that it transports the audience completely, so we believe we're watching a real event in biblical times. Crowe and Connelly (as Noah's wife Naameh) deliver their best performances in years, and Watson's turn as the rescued orphan girl, Ila, signals a significant upgrade in her dramatic abilities. Handsome young British actor Douglas Booth ("Romeo and Juliet") plays Noah's eldest son, Shem. And Anthony Hopkins plays Methuselah, Noah's grandfather, the scholarly sage who lived to the ripe old age of 969, according to the Old Testament, although Hopkins doesn't look a day over seventy-six. (The actor turns 77 New Year's Eve, 2014).
Winstone is appropriately nasty, particularly when he bites off the head of some small animal, geek-style, because he needs to strengthen himself after having been wounded in battle. Ham objects, citing the precious value of the animals, of which there are only two of each, but Tubal-cain's self-absorbed retort is that there's only one of him.
Aronofsky and fellow writer Ari Handel make no bones about presenting the origin of mankind as occurring in the Garden of Eden. We repeatedly see their animated take on the serpent, the forbidden apple and Cain's slaying of his brother, Abel. These, along with frequent references to the "Creator" throughout the film, would seem to contradict the general notion of Aronofsky as an atheist.
Whatever one thinks of the story of Noah and his ark, Aronofsky has achieved a most entertaining spectacle, even in this jaded age of digital effects.
Opinion: See It Now!