Noah Review: Somewhere Between Drowning and Floating

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Noah is not the epic disaster is could have been. In many cases, movies of its scale and scope that aren’t massive failures are masterpieces. Noah straddles that line, being as awe inspiring as it is frustrating.

If there is one word to describe director Darren Aronofsky, it’s ballsy. His creations have this endearing imperfection and passionate underbelly that make them so unique in the current Hollywood landscape. Noah is missing the endearing part.

Made on a budget of well over $100 million, this is Aronofsky’s first chance to get his hands dirty in massive special effects. And you know the story of Noah. The ark, the animals, the flood. It’s all stunning, seemingly crafted in a way so few blockbusters are. Every splinter of the ark and every pixel of the CGI is so carefully thought out that it feels like it belongs in Aronofsky’s artistic vision.

This makes it so much more tragic when the writing of the film’s titular character doesn’t have the same impact. Russell Crowe does fine as the Biblical hero, but the script doesn’t lend Noah any favors for the first two thirds of the film. Seemingly chosen by God, referred to as “The Creator” here, Noah embarks on this mission to save the innocent lives he is commanded to save. It only becomes interesting when Noah wrestles with the idea that humanity perhaps doesn’t deserve to be saved. The blurred lines between hero and villain would be fascinating had Noah’s heroism been as effective as his villainy. There’s nothing to attach us to Noah, making him the blandest lead in all of Aronofsky’s films.

Had Noah himself been a more dynamic, engaging character, Noah likely would have been a masterpiece. The way Aronofsky approaches the Biblical text is inventive and admirably objective. This is a take on the Bible you have never seen before and likely won’t again for some time. The material is handled as if it is fact even though the film feels like an epic fantasy. It’s a smart way to make the film accessible to atheists and Christians alike. But to truly sell that point, the audience needs a deeper connection with Noah.

The supporting cast manages to hold our attention as much as possible so the story isn’t a complete emotional loss. Jennifer Connolly and Emma Watson lend the film a heart when it needs one, but succumb to melodramatic overacting when it really, really counts. Ray Winstone makes for a fantastic villain, however. Watching him scream to the Creator about the privileges humanity deserves is just one moment that feels like the match made in heaven Aronofsky and Biblical storytelling should have been.

But far and away, the best written and most consistently well-acted character is Noah’s middle son Ham, played by up-and-comer Logan Lerman. Having the best arc of the film and a proper payoff, Ham is the easiest character to latch onto in Noah, and Lerman never overacts like his costars and gives a subdued, powerful performance.

When it comes down to it, this film is such a mixed bag. While the inaccessibility of Noah’s character is a major issue, the film is never not engaging. There was always something to marvel at, Aronofsky’s approach to the religious text and the thin line between heroes and villains being among the most marvelous. But when the main character doesn’t connect and significant emotional moments don’t land, you can’t call the film a success. Noah will go down as a hotly debated, unforgettable conversation starter. But it isn’t the classic it could have been. Grade: B

By Matt Dougherty

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