The opening piece of dialogue is, “In the beginning there was nothing.” The closing piece is, “Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the Earth.” In between, among many other events, there’s a brief, animated, highly stylized history of the world that goes right up to young Noah’s bar mitzvah. Unfortunately the event is crashed by some bad guys, who claim to be descendants of that murdering fellow Cain, here led by Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone), who kills Noah’s father, but doesn’t notice the kid get away.
Time passes, and when we rejoin Noah (Russell Crowe), he has a wife (Jennifer Connelly) and three kids. Noah is at a point where he’s looking for some direction in his life and, being deeply religious, he might as well pay attention to those nightmares about vast, watery destruction, and accept them as messages from the Creator.
“We’ve been chosen to save the innocent,” he tells his wife. But he neglects to mention that he’s only talking about animals, not other people, who are all, he believes, evil. “But first,” he adds, “we must build a vessel to survive the coming storm.”
Now, I haven’t perused the book this movie is based on for a number of years, but I recall that Noah’s story didn’t take up a lot of space in the scheme of things. My memory for details may be a little faulty, but I do not at all remember Noah’s ark-building project having all the grunt work being done by giant talking rock creatures called Watchers, creatures that would be right at home in an old “Star Trek” episode. Nor do I recall Noah’s grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins) having magical powers that can do amazing things to people but aren’t quite strong enough to provide him with the wild berries he craves. Hold on, did Tubal-Cain really sneak onto the ark and start eating some of those innocent animals? And what about the flood? I always thought it was the result of 40 days and 40 nights of torrential rainfall. I’m not sure how long it rains in the film, but the downpour gets an assist from scores of giant geysers that pop up out of the sea.
Yes, quite a few liberties have been taken with the famous story, many of which are going to fire up certain Bible thumpers. Yet Darren Aronofsky, who directed and co-wrote the film with Ari Heller, also sticks close to a lot of what’s on the page. But anyone expecting a typically bizarre Aronofsky ride (among his films are “Requiem for a Dream,” “Black Swan” and “The Wrestler”) could be disappointed with this mostly solemn, brooding affair.
Crowe plays it very quietly, often delivering his lines in something just above a whisper, and Connelly doesn’t do much beyond presenting her Naameh as a long-suffering wife who will do anything for her man. The best two performances go to the snarling Winstone and the feisty Emma Watson as Noah and Naameh’s adopted daughter Ila (actually, they find her wounded on the road and just make her part of the family).
Oddly, for a film about a huge boat that’s filled with a pair of every animal on the planet (well, except for the ones that are eaten, and no, there are no unicorns), very few animals are even seen after bunches of them make their (unexplained) initial approach to the ark. The lame explanation, noted in passing, well into the movie, is that they’re all sleeping somewhere on the ark.
Just as inexplicably, after the rains (and geysers) start, everyone gathers together for a storytelling session from Noah, who goes on to reiterate what we learned at the beginning about “in the beginning.” Then he keeps going on, sounding like one of the Blues Brothers talking about being on a mission from ... you know who. In the film’s latter parts, both Crowe and Connelly get to change up their characters’ moods, and give forth with some overacting. But before you know it, we catch a close-up glimpse of a dove with a twig in its mouth, and we get to see an addled, misguided Noah chugging down some cheap red wine.
Funny thing, I can’t figure out if this is a pretty good movie that I didn’t like much or a disappointing movie that I kind of enjoyed.
Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.
NOAH Written by Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel; directed by Darren Aronofsky With Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson, Anthony Hopkins, Ray Winstone Rated PG-13