There’s no denying Darren Aranofsky is a unique filmmaker. Prior to Noah his most accessible work (if you can call it that) was probably The Wrestler followed by Black Swan, the latter which – let’s face it – had many moments of ‘out there’ insanity.
Audiences expecting more of the former kind of storytelling will probably come away rather surprised, as his latest offering has more in common with latter or, more accurately, the spaced out, ethereal offering that was The Fountain.
Obviously we all know the story of Noah already right? World in ruin due to the wickedness of man; Noah (Russell Crowe) has a vision to build an ark to start again and the animals come in two by two, he saves them. Hurrah. What we don’t know is exactly how we’re going to be shown this tale. Rather than harp on about religion, Aranofsky smartly keeps the focus on creation, nature and the planet. God is frequently referred to as ‘the creator’ throughout.
Noah is helped in his quest by wife (Jennifer Connelly), sons (Logan Lerman and Douglas Booth) and adopted daughter (Emma Watson). To keep things tense we have the world of men trying to take the ark for themselves, led by Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone), the descendant of Cain.
Funnily enough I heard this film be described as ‘Gladiator at sea with animals’, which is laughable, wildly inaccurate and rather lazy. It’s a hard film to describe but one thing it ain’t, is a mainstream action movie. This is a uniquely independent filmmaker playing on a big stage and doing things his way. It just happens to have Crowe as the lead to lend a bit of gravitas to Noah, as he did with Maximus in the arena all those years ago (Ok, in 2000).
From the director’s point of view he’s outdone himself I’d say. Aranofsky’s ark and the scenes where the birds and beasts board the vessel are wonderfully depicted. As are his flashbacks and visions Noah receives from the creator; and Noah’s story of how the creator made the world in seven days. Part fairytale fantasy, part fever dream, part documentary (I heard the story of creation scene be aptly described by one critic as a sped up MTV music video).
And then we have Russell Crowe. Not always known for giving it everything he’s got but here puts in a commanding performance as Noah, particularly in the final third when he becomes conflicted by what he must do to complete his task. Some credit should surely go to Aranofsky for getting this performance out of him. But then, if you think of his past leads: Mickey Rourke, Natalie Portman, Hugh Jackman – the first two won numerous awards (Rourke, a Golden Globe and an Oscar nod; Portman an Oscar, a Golden Globe and many more) and Jackman put himself through the wringer for the The Fountain. So you’d expect Crowe to deliver.
As for the rest of the cast, they all play their parts well: Jennifer Connelly as Noah’s wife really helped ground Noah – particularly at times when he became unlikeable and you’re left in two minds about whether you should be on his side. Emma Watson had some great scenes and held her own against more established actors in the scenes she had (no doubt Harry Potter set her up nicely for this); Logan Lerman (united again with Watson after The Perks of Being a Wallflower) convinced in the few scenes he had, as a young man left conflicted by the path his father has taken and becomes increasingly swayed by the dark side.
Which leads us on to Ray Winstone who was surprisingly convincing as Tubal-cain, a man hell-bent on claiming the ark for himself. He’d just about managed to dial back his ‘natural’ accent to the point where his presence in the film wasn’t jarring – and he had the suitable mettle in terms of screen presence to face off against Crowe’s Noah. (Part of me wanted to hear him cry ‘Will I have a climactic battle sequence with Noah where I emerge victorious? Place yer bets, naaw!’ Sadly it wasn’t to be.)
Ultimately, this is the sort of film that means many different things to many different people. Whether you view it through a religious, environmental, societal or moral lens, or simply watch it as a fantasy action movie – it’s going to leave you with things to ponder and discuss long after you’ve left the cinema. It takes a bold filmmaker to take this sort of project on and it’s encouraging that Aranofsky got the go-ahead from the studio to realise his vision (he’s been working on this film since the end of Black Swan).
Perhaps, at least in terms of cinema, he’s our modern day Noah?