Noah

Noah (Russell Crowe) and his family barely survive in a harsh, barren wilderness.  His wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) raises their three boys Shem (Douglas Booth), Ham (Logan Lerman)and Japheth (Leo McHugh Carroll) as Noah goes out to search for food.  Life in this wilderness is dangerous because of the descendants of Cain, the murderous son of Adam and Eve.  One of his kin, Tubal Cain (Ray Winstone) murdered Noah’s father many years ago.  The descendants of Cain have built large settlements but have stripped the land bare so it doesn’t produce food or feed the animals they raise, so they are constantly on the move and don’t mind robbing and killing anyone they come across.  One night, Noah has a dream sent to him by the Creator.  In the dream, Noah sees death all around caused by a massive flood.  The Creator is sending this flood because of the wickedness of man.  Noah believes there’s more to the dream so he and the family begin a trip to the mountain where his grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins) lives.  Along the way they come upon a group of people who have been killed.  There is only one survivor, a young girl named Ila (Emma Watson).  She has a serious wound in her stomach and Naameh says the damage will make her unable to bare children.  When a group of men approach, Noah and the family, along with Ila, runs into a wasteland where the marauders are afraid to follow.  There, they are challenged by a group of rock giants known as the Watchers.  The Watchers are angels who came to earth to help Mankind after it was evicted from the Garden of Eden.  The Creator didn’t want the angels to help men and banished them to earth, locked up in a casing of rock.  The Watchers are wary of men because Cain’s relatives took what they had to give in the form of knowledge then tried to enslave and kill them.  Methuselah protected the Watchers.  Noah tells the Watchers he is Methuselah’s grandson and needs to talk to him, but the Watchers keep Noah and his family in an area and won’t let them leave.  One of the Watchers, Og (voiced by Frank Langella), sneaks the family out and guides them to Methuselah.  Noah and Shem climb up to speak to the old man.  Once there, he gives Noah a tea that puts him into a dream-like state.  There, he sees the vision of destruction by water once again but this time, sees a huge ship and all the animals on earth swimming towards it.  It is then he realizes the Creator will wipe out humanity and wants Noah to build an ark to save the animals from the coming disaster.
 
Darren Aronofsky, the director behind “Black Swan,” “The Wrestler” and “The Fountain” is known to have a particular, some would say peculiar, look at the world and the subjects he films.  “Noah” maintains that odd vision as he fleshes out a story that is a bit short of details in the Bible.  Aronofsky’s dramatic license has rubbed some religious people the wrong way; especially turning Noah into something of a radical environmentalist and the plans he has for his family once the flood is over.  I think both God and the Bible are powerful enough to stand up to some rock monsters, CGI animals and a Noah who seems to be suffering a psychotic break; but is the film powerful enough to survive past the opening weekend and make back its $125-million price tag?  The answer is a mixed bag.
 
First, I don’t have any problem with the changes screenwriters Aronofsky and Ari Handel put in the story.  The addition of the Watchers, the villainous descendants of Cain and a supernatural explanation for where all the wood for the ark came from gave the film some visual and narrative punch that a very straight forward and reverential retelling would have lacked; however, the shift in perspective of Noah from rebuilder of a new world to mentally unbalanced zoo keeper felt very odd and rather off-putting.  For the first half of the film, Noah is presented as a dedicated family man who cares enough for his wife and children to put his own life in danger to protect them.  For most of the second half of the movie, he becomes this dark cloud that seems to be on the verge of snapping and killing all the humans on board and then taking his own life.  I’m not sure what in the story pushes Noah over the edge.  He explains his reasoning after a visit to the camp of Cain’s descendants.  The sin and debauchery he witnesses, including cannibalism, leads him to conclude the Creator wants all of mankind erased from the face of the earth, including Noah and his family.  Up until that point, Noah followed the Creator’s explicit instructions and didn’t try to add any personal flourishes.  Now, Noah is deciding the fate of humanity’s future based on his disgust for the people he sees acting like animals.  This change in the character’s point of view felt rather contrived and used as a way to throw in some more drama where otherwise there would have just been days floating on the floodwaters.  From a director’s point of view, this added story element makes for a more interesting film.  For me, as a viewer, it just felt weird.
 
Russell Crowe, even in the parts I found odd, is excellent as Noah.  The way he interacts with his children and with his wife feels very grounded and real.  One could imagine seeing a father deal with his family in a similar way today until he drops off the deep end and contemplates ending all of mankind.  Crowe has the gravitas to pull off this kind of role.  It is a meaty and emotionally demanding part that could have come off as a joke had a lesser actor been playing the part.  Jennifer Connelly is also very good as Naameh.  For most of the movie, she is very understated and quiet, playing the part of a dutiful wife and mother.  As the film reaches its emotional and dramatic peak, Connelly pulls out all the stops and explodes in a fit of sorrow and rage that is impressive in its power.  Connelly is the core of sanity during a period in the film when that is in short supply and she delivers a performance that might be Oscar worthy but will probably be forgotten by the time nominations are decided.  Playing the villain, Ray Winstone as Tubal Cain is frequently a bit of a scenery chewer.  His bad guy is more of an evil king from a Disney movie than from a Biblical epic.  Winstone is given the rather unenviable task of being the representation of evil going up against one of the Bible’s best loved heroes.  He’s also taking on a role that is created from whole cloth as this character, nor anyone like him, appears in the original story.  Tubal Cain is a device to drive the drama along and give the audience someone to cheer against and Winstone ramps up the evil whenever he can.  There is a section as the flood starts where Winstone delivers a kind of pleading, begging yet defiant speech to his people that is also aimed at the Creator who Tubal Cain believes has abandoned humanity.  It’s a rallying cry and a complaint and is delivered with surprising amount of sincerity.  It makes the character almost respectable in his apparent concern for his people and the future of mankind.  Sadly, it is in the middle of a performance that is otherwise almost comical.  The rest of the cast does a fine job with their roles.  Logan Lerman as Ham is interesting to watch.  He is the problem child of the group and nearly causes a couple of catastrophes.  The mixture of juvenile selfishness and forced maturity because of the situation is pulling the character in many different directions and he doesn’t always handle it well.  Lerman is also capable of playing the character at a couple of different ages and doesn’t make the slightly older version of Ham too much different from the younger.  He’s more mature, more subtle but still boiling with emotion and a desire to break free.  He’s a very good young actor who is capable of taking on difficult material.
 
“Noah” is rated PG-13 for disturbing images, brief suggestive content and violence.  We see several people being killed in various ways but not terribly graphically.  There is a scene of women being dragged away by men to apparently be killed and cut up for meat to be consumed by people in their village.  There are some visible wounds that ooze blood.  We see a very brief scene where a young couple is about to have sex.  There is no foul language.
 
“Noah” is a strange film for anyone even slightly familiar with the Bible story.  The addition of the Watchers, the magical forest that pops up in seconds, the mob of crazy people who want to take the ark from Noah and other elements is a bit jarring at first; however, they make for a more fleshed out story that also focuses on the people involved in a much more probing way.  It may not be for everyone and I’m not sure it was entirely for me.  While there were parts of the movie I enjoyed, the turning of Noah into an angry fatalist tainted the whole experience and brought my enjoyment of the film down.  I don’t see the film as an attack on Christianity but it also isn’t a fully enjoyable experience.
 
“Noah” gets three guitars out of five.
 
This week, your new films feature a super jerk and a superhero.  Vote for the next movie I see and review.
 
Bad Words—Guy Trilby (Jason Bateman), a 40-year-old misanthrope, makes waves at a regional spelling bee when, due to a loophole in the rules, he is allowed to enter -- and later wins. Hurling insults at every turn, Guy advances to the national contest in Los Angeles, accompanied by a reporter (Kathryn Hahn) who wants to discover his hidden motives for entering the bee.
 
Captain America:  The Winter Soldier—After the cataclysmic events in New York with his fellow Avengers, Steve Rogers, aka Capt. America (Chris Evans), lives in the nation's capital as he tries to adjust to modern times. An attack on a S.H.I.E.L.D. colleague throws Rogers into a web of intrigue that places the whole world at risk.
 
Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews any film of his choice currently in theatres or On Demand.
 
Release dates are subject to change and not all films may be shown in Knoxville, TN.
 
Send questions and comments to stanthemovieman@att.net.  Follow Stan on Twitter @moviemanstan.