Family Movie Review: Noah (PG-13)


Let’s be honest here: Aronofsky is not a director who operates in half-measures. His films are usually visceral, sometimes unbearable in their intensity (see: “Requiem for a Dream” about drug addiction; “The Wrestler” and “Black Swan” about destroying one’s body; “The Fountain” about the obsessive-yet-shifting nature of love), and so it’s not surprising that “Noah” is just as ambitious. And with a $130 million budget, Aronofsky goes all out. The Ark is huge, not the welcoming wooden boat we’ve all been told about but a huge, hulking mass of a thing, constructed with the help of Watchers, stone-covered fallen angels who ultimately join Noah in his cause. Noah and his family aren’t dressed in robes, but sleek, almost utilitarian garb that looks like it could be on the racks of H&M. And the battle scene between Noah and the evil urban dwellers who want on his Ark could have been lifted from “The Lord of the Rings,” its scale is that grand.

But ultimately this is a story about one man’s belief that he’s being directed by someone or something greater than him—here, the Creator, never God—and his struggle with reconciling those directions with his own self will. Noah (Russell Crowe, of “Winter’s Tale” and “Man of Steel”) is a man willingly living apart, one of the last descendants of Seth, who forages, is a vegetarian, and wants nothing to do with the descendants of Cain, who live in cities and are basically industrialists. Along with his wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly, of “Winter’s Tale”), three sons—including eldest Shem (Douglas Booth, of “Romeo and Juliet”) and middle child Ham (Logan Lerman, of “Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters”)—and adopted daughter Ila (Emma Watson, of “This is the End” and “The Bling Ring”), Noah is committed to never having anything to do with those other men.They only take from the earth; Noah wants to save it.

So when he receives a message from the Creator that there is a flood coming as a punishment for how men have ruined his creation, and only Noah’s family and animals are able to survive, it almost makes sense to Noah. Visions from his ancient grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins, of “Thor: The Dark World” and “Red 2”) further his resolve. And he begins constructing the Ark with the help of the Watchers, all to the rage and jealousy of Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone, of “Snow White and the Huntsman”), who wants his own urban dwellers to get on the Ark, too. Hence the battle … and a second half of the movie that questions whether Noah, now questioning himself and the message from the Creator in light of so much death and destruction, made the right decision, or whether he should be held responsible at all.

That’s the kind of ambiguousness that Aronofsky is playing with here, and which certainly might rub some people the wrong way. The second half of “Noah” raises a lot of questions—could Noah have been insane? Was he right to sacrifice so many based only on his own experiences? What about humanity? Are people responsible to each other or to someone unknown, unseen, possibly not even real? Those queries are mirrored in how Noah himself seems to go off the rails, becoming withdrawn from his family; threatening to kill a child if Ila and Shem, who are in love, have one; and generally becoming very unlike what we think Noah should be. And that’s kind of where the film loses it.

It’s not that the acting is bad, because Crowe is fantastic, committed here both physically and mentally in a way he hasn’t been in a while; he’s imposing and driven and relatable, vacillating between emotional states quite believably. Watson too steps up to the plate in a role that needs a mix of innocence, calm resolve, and steeliness; together, she and Crowe balance out the hamminess of Hopkins and the blankness of Booth. And it’s not that the visuals are bad, even when Noah’s story about creation veers into “The Tree of Life” territory with planets and life and murder (yes, Cain killing Abel is covered), all presented in blurring, careening spasms of color.

But it’s the ambiguousness and sometimes underwhelming script that ultimately become off-putting. When an actual line is, “What’s good? What’s right? That choice is yours,” it feels like the movie is shrugging, not only at its idea of the relationship between Noah and the Creator but at us, too. Although “Noah” raises a number of intriguing questions, it ends on a note of “So what?”—and that taints everything, from the strong performances to the engaging visuals, that came before it. 

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