MRR Review: "Noah"

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures

Rating: PG-13
Length: 138 Minutes
Release Date: March 28, 2014
Directed by: Darren Aronofsky
Genre: Adventure/ Drama

Innovative and sometimes provocative director Darren Aronofsky reaches back into the mists of ancient history to tell the Biblical story of "Noah." The talented filmmaker, whose previous work includes the enormous box office success "The Black Swan," uses all of his technical virtuosity to create a thrilling narrative that keeps the audience enthralled. Aronofsky, however, does not simply follow the tale of the visionary shipwright as told in the Bible. He and fellow screenwriter Ari Handel create their own vision of the familiar story and give the plot a subtext that resonates strongly with modern audiences. The result is a visually striking film that also carries an important message.

The story of Noah and the great flood that enveloped the entire world goes back many thousands of years. The tale is one that filmmakers have tackled sporadically over the years with mixed results. One of the problems is that the story contains images that are very difficult to film convincingly. This includes the scenes of the world-wide flood and also the gathering of two animals of each species to take abroad the ark. Aronofsky and his creative team rose to this challenge and offer the viewer stunningly effective visuals.

The main action of the film begins when Noah, portrayed forcefully by Russell Crowe, starts to have disturbing visions. He believes that these visions indicate that God, whom he calls the Creator, intends to flood the world as a punishment for humanity's sinfulness. Noah comes to understand that the Creator wants him to build a huge ship, or ark, to save himself and his family. The ship is also meant to house two of every type of beast so that the world does not lose the animal population completely when the water rises.

Although readers of the Bible can interpret the tale of Noah in various ways, Aronofsky clearly wants the viewer to consider the ecological implications of the story. He shows Noah and his family living in harmony with the earth. This is in stark contrast to other humans, who ravage the world without any concern for the environment. The director obviously sees a connection between these two different views of how humanity should interact with nature and events taking place in modern society.

As Noah begins to build his ark, he comes into conflict with a local leader named Tubal-Cain. Played with an unnerving malevolence by Ray Winstone, the character wants to take over Noah's ship and use it for his own purposes. Noah, of course is not going to allow this and the contest of wills between the two characters drives a significant portion of the film.

One of the most interesting aspects of the film is the design of the ark. The filmmakers made a ship for the film that follows the specifications outlined in the Bible. Rather than the bowed ship that is often used in films and paintings, the ship in "Noah" has a boxy shape that is more faithful to the original story. The ark in the movie is not a small model made to look much larger with camera trickery, but an actual size ship built on a soundstage.

Practical considerations prevented the use of only live animals in the scenes where the animals board the ship. The creative team used CGI techniques to give the viewer a sense of the extraordinary collection of wildlife that is brought aboard the ark. This is done as convincingly as possible and does not detract from the viewer's immersion in the story.

In addition to the more epic aspects of the plot, the film also explores the sometimes contentious relationship between Noah and his family members. All of the actors involved, especially Jennifer Connelly as Noah's spouse, do an excellent job of bringing these characters to life. This includes Emma Watson, as Noah's adopted daughter, and Douglas Booth as one of his three sons. Another standout performance comes from Logan Lerman. He portrays Ham, Noah's middle son, who comes in conflict with his father as the family waits for the flood waters to recede.

The epic story of the flood that wiped out almost all of humanity has fascinated people for centuries. With "Noah," the story finally receives the compelling treatment that it deserves. Darren Aronofsky and a stellar cast and crew give their best effort to make this famous tale come alive for audiences. Viewers will certainly get their money's worth, whether they purchase tickets at their local theater or catch the film on DVD.