Friday, April 11, 2014

Noah Review

Noah Review
No matter what religion you follow, no matter what beliefs you hold dear, I find it hardpressed to think of any reasons not to see "Noah."

Sure, I know it has sparked controversy, but pretty much every religious movie ever made has done just that. Everybody's vision of another source, be it any book not just The Bible, is someone else's take on the story. Of course, it can't be word-for-word, because perhaps that wasn't the reaction that particular someone had to that story. Director Darren Aronofsky has been dreaming of "Noah" movie since he was around 13 years old, no joke. This is an idea he's been working on since 2000. If anybody knows Hollywood, they know that passion projects that sit for a long time usually never come out right on the other end. 

Darren Aronofsky's "Noah" is actually pretty close to perfect. It is an amazingly ambitious film. I think it works on a religious faith level, I think it works as a story about ordinary people given an extraordinary task, and I think it works as a visual marvel. It is all brought to life with incredible visual effects, as well as an equally incredible cast. That's actually a pretty respectful accomplishment, given that the Story of Noah wraps itself up pretty quickly in The Bible. Aronofsky's crew knew they would have to make several changes just to get this story on its feet. I think they all did an outstanding job with the material and they should receive big kudos for their work.

The attention to detail is absolutely mesmerizing. These are some of the grandest special effects that I have seen in awhile and I'll be shocked if the team behind them don't get an invite to Oscar Night next year. The look of The Watchers, fallen angels who have decided to help Noah with building The Ark, are awe-inspiring. The small details of The Watchers and how they move and look is worthy enough to see this in the best theater possible. But there are also great scenes involving herds upon herds of animals moving toward The Ark. In one of the film's quieter moments, Noah tells his family the story of creation and how Adam and Eve ate from The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The scene is over quickly, but there is so much to absorb that you may need to see the film twice. There is so much astounding material to feast your eyes upon that you'll forget about the flood that is coming near the end of the film. Even details like the sky are cooler-than-usual. (Lets us imagine what our sky would look like today, had it not been for the use of fossil fuels.) All working to creating an almost dreamlike experience.

But just as the visuals are special, there are moments of atmosphereic dramatization and you won't be able to look away. Consider a scene where Noah visits a town not far from his Ark encampment. Noah sees, and we see, the very reasons why The Creator is going to drown the planet. Its a harrowing scene showing us the darkest of human nature, and it completely powerful. Aronofsky was the director of both "Black Swan," and "Requiem For A Dream." The guy has mastered unsettling imagery. The entire second-half of the movie feels completely different from the first-half. I remember a critic I trust willingly call the second-half of "Noah" "'The Shining' on a boat" and that might be the most perfect way to describe it. Aronofsky has made some big choices with faith, morality and mercy in this film, choices that I never thought The Bible fully realized. I am generally curious to hear other people's reactions to these choices.

Russell Crowe is unbelievably proficient as Noah. The character goes through major transitions that I feel Crowe truly mastered. It could not have been an easy role to portray and Crowe handled it delicately. Jennifer Connelly plays Noah's wife and has several memorable scenes that will definitely get under your skin. Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, Douglas Booth and Leo McHugh Carroll play Noah's children and they're performances range from good to nearly great. Watson and Lerman are definitely in the good column, I just don't think their character transitions were quite up to par, but Booth and Carroll do really good work. So does Anthony Hopkins as Noah's grandfather and Ray Winstone as Tubal-Cain, a "king" of the lands outside of where Noah resides, a man who killed Noah's father in front of his eyes when Noah was very young, a man who desperately wants to take The Ark. Winstone has been great before but he is overly-great here.

As I alluded above, the second-half of Noah is almost nightmarish. It is the half of the film where I believe the film rushes off its rails a little bit. I get that a lot of changes and a lot filler was needed for this movie to work. I know the full story of Noah is not really explored in The Bible, leaving it up to lots of interpretation. Aronofsky fills his world with big ideas and intelligent philosophy. Then at the end, on the boat, the film seemed to fall into action mode for the big finish. It all seemed so wildly out-of-place that I could not believe it was the same movie. I know they needed a way to put the finishing bow on this story, but they went that direction? It seemed brash and lazy, but there was still so much to like, debate and absorb that I did not really care.

"Noah" is a movie that is going to challenge and confirm your beliefs in equal measure. No matter what you believe in, you are going to have a radical reaction to this, which I think was the point of it all. I don't know if we will see a more ambitious film coming our way any time soon, but Aronofsky created a genuine, surreal, gracious and insightful movie. It is absolutely worth seeing. Speaking as someone who is not super-religious, "Noah" was quite the wonder.

FINAL GRADE: B+

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