Film review: Noah

The director of Black Swan takes on the Ark myth with admirable Old Testament fervour

Film Title: Noah

Director: Darren Aronofsky

Starring: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ray Winstone, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, Anthony Hopkins

Genre: Drama

Running Time: 138 min

Fri, Apr 4, 2014, 00:00

   

Lo, in the second Millennium of our Lord’s time, there came upon the world a monstrous entity that laid waste to the careers of its creators, caused mirth in the fields, and spread great emptiness throughout auditoria from Tyre to Mesopotamia.

Well, that was the idea anyway. When it emerged that Darren Aronofsky was planning to follow up Black Swan with an apparently sincere take on the story of Noah, more than a few supposed prophets predicted the End of Times. Aronofsky was never likely to deliver a film that appealed to the faith crowd. Who, among his secular audience, has an interest in Bible stories?

As it happens, Aronofsky has crafted one of those fascinating follies that add colour and eccentricity to a great career. (Indeed, the film-maker now has two such beasts on his CV. For all its oddness, Noah looks like a veritable model of restraint when set beside The Fountain). And if we must have Russell Crowe, and it seems we must, then let him be stomping about and bellowing like, well, a lunatic from the Old Testament.

The general gist of the story will be familiar to readers of all faiths and none. In a distant, distant time an arrogant man has a vision of looming apocalyptic floods and elects to gather all the beasts of the earth into a ship of his own construction. There really isn’t a great deal more plot in the Bible. So Aronofsky and co-writer Ari Handel have much freedom to expand and improvise.

We knew, during the era of classic Hollywood, where we stood with biblical epics. Made, for the most part, by observant Jews and Christians, those films could be taken at face value. But the current picture is a very different creature.

The film-makers certainly don’t work to exclude religious viewers. An opening animation, honouring the biblical origins of the universe, looks a little like the type of short we used to see at Sunday school. The Creator (as God is called throughout) does not make an actual appearance, but Noah abounds with miraculous incidents that admit no rational explanation.

Yet there are clearly other agenda afoot. Aside from anything else, Noah must stand as the most expensive animal rights movie ever made. The lead character may be borderline crackers, but his argument for the innocence of other creatures is made convincingly, and the film’s revulsion at the eating of meat – identified with rape, murder and ignorance – would not feel out of place in a Morrissey song. And lest we be under any illusion that he is playing to the New Evangelicals, Aronofsky even includes a sequence detailing the evolution of species.

None of this conveys how much fun there is to be had from Noah. This is not to say it’s raining jokes. Indeed, few directors are quite so ill disposed to overt humour as Darren Aronofsky. But there is a glorious sense – this is a folly, remember – of the director inviting every member of his team to glory in excess.

Clint Mansell’s superb score oscillates between Middle Eastern exotica and Wagnerian crescendos with implausible seamlessness. The sequences depicting the massed arrival of the animals to Noah’s enclosure are impressively creepy (and crawly). The absurd contribution from a gang of rock-based life forms – acknowledging, one assumes, the Jewish myth of the Golem – nudges the picture closer to The Lord of the Rings than the Pentateuch. And let us not overlook the ACTING competition between Russell Crowe and Ray Winstone.

The other stars take spirited cracks at often tepid material: Jennifer Connelly is polite as Noah’s wife; Emma Watson is characteristically bland as a daughter in law; Anthony Hopkins does his wise old Taff thing as Methuselah. Yet even Hopko seems like a bantamweight when Winstone, playing the evil Tubal-cain, and our Russell set about the scenery with their great chomping jaws. (By way of contrast, Logan Lerman lacks ham as Ham.)

Never mind how Noah reflects or represents existing faiths. There is, in this singular film, enough crackpot philosophy, apocalyptic violence, environmental evangelism and portentous dialogue to inspire a whole new religion.

That is not in itself a recommendation. But Noah is recommended nonetheless.