Having read decidedly mixed reviews of Darren Aronofsky’s new big-budget film Noah, I really wasn’t sure what to expect, other than perhaps Russell Crowe proving he can still take on a macho gladiator-esque lead after his, shall we say, interesting appearance in Les Mis last year. In spite of its varied reception, the phrase ‘biblical epic’ certainly stands out as a popular label for this $125 million project which has been a whopping 14 years in development. On emerging from the theatre I think I understand why. There really isn’t another way to accurately describe this 2 ¼ hour-long film – it’s just that: epic, and, to be honest, not a lot else.
Though the visual effects used to create the rain, crashing seas and the swarms of animals filling the ark (which is somewhat disconcertingly shaped like a big shipping container – not the best design for buoyancy) are all well and good, and definitely worth paying the extra few pounds to see on the big screen, there isn’t anything new or original about these effects.
Moreover, they are definitely undermined early on by the recurring feature of the ‘Watchers’; huge many-limbed monsters made out of rock that drag themselves around the place for no clear reason. While these apparently have some basis in the mention of fallen angels in the Jewish Book of Enoch, I severely doubt there is anything to suggest that they resemble the bizarre, knobbly deep-voiced creatures that feature heavily in this film. They could have been borrowed from an episode of Doctor Who or a cheap video game seemingly only to provide a solution to the practical problem of how Noah and his family were to construct such an enormous vessel on their own.
I realise that to point out here that if we’re to expect logistical explanations for every aspect of the story, it isn’t long before the question of inbreeding arises and I’m not sure it’s one the film’s creators or anyone could comfortably answer. Nonetheless, the ‘Watchers’ certainly added an unexpected element of humour to this epic catastrophe movie, albeit an unintentional one.
Moving on from the computerised monsters to the real people in the film, Russell Crowe’s Noah is compellingly dark and tortured, but let down by a stilted and unnatural sounding script, in which a few too many short and monosyllabic phrases are evidently aimed primarily at instilling that aforementioned epic quality. Jennifer Connelly gives a stand-out performance as Naameh, Noah’s wife, struggling to protect her loved ones from the ruthless side of his character, while Emma Watson, Douglas Booth and Logan Lerman all give respectable but unremarkable performances in their roles as Noah’s children.
Ultimately, Noah tries to give a new spin to the classic biblical tale, examining the psychology of the eponymous title character and raising questions about the conflict between justice and duty. Ray Winstone is a memorable and convincing Tubal-Cain, Noah’s nemesis and the representative of a human race that has become enslaved to coarse selfish instinct. At the same time, his character voices the irrepressible questions and doubts one feels when watching Noah shut the doors of the Ark to the outside world. These questions give the film some substance and highlight the blurred distinctions between the good and bad inherent in everyone.
At its heart, it is a film about the relationships within a family and how far each is willing to make sacrifices not only for a higher cause but also for each other. It is a shame these relationships weren’t given more room to develop during the film’s rather slow start as they are more engaging than the ostentatious special effects that dominate – not quite as epic though, I’ll admit.