It’s probably not a surprise that Noah is Darren Aronofsky’s most accessible, straight-forward, and least artistically challenging motion picture, meaning those who came to see it just for Russell Crowe are more likely to be a lot happier than those who came to see Black Swan just for Natalie Portman. As a huge fan of his films (The Wrestler the only one I have not seen) I was worried that the blockbuster sweep of such a Biblical epic would drown out his vision, or perhaps that the past had become prologue, and Aronofsky was moving on from his more intimate work. Thankfully neither is true, Noah wears both hats quite handily, indulging greatly in twenty-first century Hollywood spectacle, while simultaneously being so far removed from the sword and sandal sensationalism of past epics by delivering a tense, resonant, very human film that focuses far more on the conscience of a man than the demands of a God.
Aronofsky divides Noah into two very polar halves, the first hour detailing the building of the Ark, and the second hour observing Noah and his family on board the Ark, adrift after the flood. The stylistic approach and thematic exploration is appropriately different between the two, and what starts out as a sweeping depiction of chronological events, where Noah dutifully does as he believes he is told, framed in larger than life establishing shots meant to convey the sheer enormity of his task, becomes a much more intimate affair when the flood hits, and the Ark becomes but a grain of sand against the vast ocean, and the dire horrific consequences of his actions begin to shake his resolve. It’s during the first half that Noah threatens to go off the rails, with scene after lavish scene moving towards an ending we are already aware of, though Aronofsky still finds time for moments of singularity, like a time lapse montage of the creation story. There’s very little drama to be found in all the epicness, but through that Aronofsky is planting the seeds for the conflict to come – how can Noah not finish what he started considering the sacrifices he has already made?
Noah is a conflicted man, and rightfully so. Aronofsky’s film is going to have its detractors, those who take issue with the director’s fantasy not quite lining up with their own. It’s easy to get caught up in a belief, and let it take you past the point of no return, and I hope that message comes across loud and clear. For certain Noah is not an enviable man, and Russell Crowe plays him with such steely resolve the likes of which I haven’t seen from the actor since L.A. Confidential. Oh, how I miss old Bud White. After years of playing such larger than life characters like Maximus and Superman’s dad and Robin Hood, it’s a wonder Crowe can find the human being in any personae anymore. But he does here, and his scenes with Jennifer Connelly really crackle when the film pulls back its scale, their previous cinematic chemistry coming whirling back to life.
Finally, it would be remiss of me not to mention Clint Mansell, the man who has been scoring Aronofsky’s films since the beginning. I cannot recall a single memorable moment in one of his films that hasn’t been elevated by Mansell’s compositions.Noah is no different. The repetition is still there, this time of gigantic, auditorium filling cues that simultaneously underscore the grandeur and the intimacy of his dilemma and subsequent actions. I’m not prepared to separate what was Mansell from what was Tchaikovsky in Black Swan at the moment, but granting Pyotr the benefit of the doubt, I believe Noah is Mansell’s finest achievement for the director.
Noah is a towering cinematic achievement, and a rousing success for one of the today’s greatest working directors, delivering an alarming spectacle filtered through his singular vision. I am excited and scared for whatever he does next.
The Verdict: Rave