New Review: Noah (2014)
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Cast: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson, Douglas Booth, Ray Winstone, Logan Lerman, Leo McHugh Carroll, Madison Davenport, Nick Nolte
It's awfully difficult to get behind this interpretation of the character Noah. The man says that he is called to build the Ark before the Great Flood in order to protect the innocent, but when a young girl gets ensnared in a bear trap, Noah coldly leaves her to get trampled to death by an army of men without giving it a second thought. Later, when his allegedly barren adopted daughter Ila (Emma Watson) becomes pregnant, his first thought is to kill the baby as soon as it is born. Ila and Noah's son Shem (Douglas Booth) try to leave the ark on a small raft in order to protect the unborn child, but Noah ends up torching it. He is determined to kill that child (if it's a girl, that is; if it's a boy, he'll spare it).
The way the character is written, and the way actor Russell Crowe portrays him, this Noah comes across as a crazed, self-righteous fanatic. In a way, he sort of reminded me of this church group I encountered back in college, who believed that not only were movies evil, but so were the people who watched them. They could only see the ugliness in everything, and Noah is kind of the same way. When Noah's wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) says to him why she thinks their sons are good men, he tells her why he thinks they're not. The late great Roger Ebert use to say that you should never make a movie about a character you can't stand. This Noah is, to me, that kind of character.
He's very unpleasant for a main character in a two hour and 19 minute movie, and one that focuses a little too much on action and special-effects. There is a silly subplot about a race of fallen angels who turned into rock monsters known as The Watchers. They become Noah's allies when he proves to them that he's working at the Creator's will, and battle off an army of angry men, led by the blood-thirsty Tubal-cain (the wildly over-the-top Ray Winstone), as they try to overtake the Ark. Their animation is quite good, but they're not wondrous, fearsome, or interesting, and when they talk, it's bound to elicit unpleasant memories of the Transformers movies.
The climax of the movie is distressingly routine. Tubal-cain hacks his way into the Ark before the flood hits, and remains hidden inside for a little over 9 months. During that time, he converses with Noah's son Ham (Logan Lerman), who's angry at his father because of the girl Na'el (Madison Davenport) that he let die (she was the one trampled on by the soldiers). Tubal-cain eventually makes an attempt to murder Noah, which leads to a standard issue "fight-to-the-death" between the good guy and the bad guy, and no points if you can guess who wins.
It goes without saying that I didn't much like the movie Noah, and that's a shame, because the movie has a lot to say in its favor. Director Darren Aronofsky gives the movie a dark and bleak tone, and that is exactly how it should be (this is, after all, a movie about an apocalypse). The cinematography by Matthew Libatique is absolutely gorgeous. There is one shot of Noah and his wife silhouetted against a morning sky that was just breath-taking. The movie also makes a decent argument for why God flooded the Earth. The sin of man was so horrible that not only was it dangerous for Noah and his family to even go near a city, but the world itself seemed to be dying. There was very little vegitation, no trees, and bodies of innocent people (children included) scattered all over. There is one scene where Noah sneaks into Tabul-cain's camp, and what he sees there can only be described as hell on Earth.
The acting is hit or miss, with some very strong performances as well some weak ones. Booth is solid as Shem, but Lerman was kind of flat as Ham. While Leo McHugh Carroll is given very little to do as Noah's youngest Japheth, he makes the most of his few scenes. Anthony Hopkins is a riot as Noah's grandfather Methuselah. He helps Noah to figure out God's plan for surviving the flood by slipping a hallucinagen in his tea (you know, just like he did in the Scriptures), and Hopkins has a great final scene where he finds a berry in a forest (he's been craving them the whole movie), holds out his arms, and allows himself to be swept away by the flood. The best performances are turned in by the women in the cast. Connelly is dynamite as Naameh, Watson has never been better as Ila, and while she has only a handful of scenes, Davenport is haunting and heartbreaking as the doomed Na'el.
In fact, in her few scenes, we get to know more about and care for Na'el more than we do for Noah and his family. As characters, they remain one-note characters from the start, so as intense as things get on the Ark, we constantly remain at a distance from it. That's a shame, because I was really rooting for this movie. I wanted it to succeed. In the end, however, this Noah reminded me a lot of the 2010 Robin Hood movie, which also had Russell Crowe: It has a very pretty surface, but if you try looking beneath it, you're not likely to find much there.
Rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images, some mild sexual content
Final Grade: ** (out of ****)