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Review: Aronofsky brings signature darkness and complexity to ‘Noah’

Russell Crowe is Noah in NOAH, from Paramount Pictures and Regency Enterprises.
Russell Crowe is Noah in NOAH, from Paramount Pictures and Regency Enterprises.Niko Tavernise / (c) MMXIV Paramount Pictures Corporation and Regency Entertainment

Noah

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When controversial and visionary director Darren Aronofsky announced that his next picture was to be based on the Biblical epic of Noah and his ark, more than a few heads turned. After all this is the man behind the likes of “The Wrestler”, “Black Swan” and that most heartwarming of all his tales “Requiem for a Dream”. Dark. Profound. Affecting. Haunting. These are all words that leap to mind when one considers the above works, but are probably not words that most people would associate with the tale that so many, Christian and non-Christian alike, remember from their childhoods. Most people think of Noah as the man with the ark, the man tasked with saving animals from the great flood, not as someone painted with many, many shades of grey, and yet Darren Aronofsky found so much more than simple black and white in his film.

“Noah” which storms into theaters on March 28, is inspired the tale of the man who believes he has been chosen by God to undertake the daunting task of building an ark to save the world’s animals from apocalyptic flood, but it is not your garden variety biblical epic either. It’s a take on a biblical tale that only Aronofsky could deliver.

Coming at this meaty 138 minute epic through the eyes of a film lover and critic, not a theologian (that’s best left to the professionals) seems the best way to approach it, and indeed, a separation of this work from the source material on the part of viewers seems to be the wish of the filmmakers, as the following explanatory message has been widely associated with the film:

"The film is inspired by the story of Noah.

While artistic license has been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values, and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide.

The biblical story of Noah can be found in the book of Genesis."

And so, this review will consider Aronofsky’s work on its own merit.

One common thread among many of Aronofsky's earlier films is a protagonist who is desperate beyond all measure and focused on a single goal. The troubled junkies in “Requiem” think only of their next high, Mickey Rourke’s Randy the Ram can’t let go of his wrestling past, while Natalie Portman’s Nina is wholly obsessed with claiming the lead in her ballet company. Noah himself is a logical continuation of that theme. Once he becomes convinced of his purpose he single-mindedly quests to build his ark, protect it and carry out the word of his lord Creator at any and all costs. Aronofsky’s film, for all its scale and magnitude is also a character driven piece that rightly spends much time examining Noah as a figure, as well as those around him.

Russell Crowe embodies “Noah” brilliantly filling him with resolve, purpose and a tangible desperation to carry out his destiny. Jennifer Connelly reteams with Aronofsky and delivers a performance that’s quite as searing, if not as haunting as her turn in “Requiem for a Dream”. As Noah’s wife, Naameh, she bears the emotional brunt of Noah’s fixation, particularly as it turns darker and more deparate. Perhaps only Emma Watson’s Ila packs more emotional oomph and relatability. The great Anthony Hopkins (who brings Methuselah to life as a sort of Yoda meets Rafiki style), Logan Lerman and Douglas Booth round out the rest of Noah’s family in fine style, while Ray Winstone takes up the mantle of wicked antagonist.

Aronofsky’s vision is sweeping and insightful and quite epic to behold, perhaps even overwhelming in that it is the kind of film that sits in the viewer’s mind for some while after the screen goes back. This isn’t your grandmother’s “Noah”, it’s something much more complex, layered, dark and fascinating.