"While Aronofsky may have a hugely inflated budget for Noah, that doesn't change the fact that his meditative and deeply-contemplative style of filmmaking is not on display anymore."
For cinephiles, Darren Aronofsky's Noah is a treat just to see how the indie director handles a $160 - $200 million budget as opposed to ones he worked with for his previous pictures, which now seem like chump change in comparison. Aronofsky has stuck to moody, low-budget pictures for much of his career and to see him jump ship (pun intended) to play with practically a blank check amount in order to give us his take on the tale of Noah's Ark is a wonderful opportunity.
The story of Noah is widely known, so to go into it deeply in this review seems like nothing more than just a tiresome reiteration of prior knowledge for many people. The summary is that after a hellish nightmare of him and every living thing around him drowning in what looks to be over a mile deep of water, a man named Noah convinces his entire family that they need to build a humungous ark and take two of each living animal aboard. Predictably, his family has their hesitation to their patriarch's sudden dream, but when the dreams grow fiercer and the rain starts coming, they all have what they can do to survive.
Noah is played by Russell Crowe, a tremendous actor who seemingly hops from one capable performance to the next. With Noah, Crowe brings a terrific layer of honesty, vulnerability, and anxiety with his character, showing him not as a character in a biblical story but an actual man with deeper feelings. Aronofsky uses Noah to examine age-old ideas such as blind faith and the lengths one is willing to go when they feel they're right based on their own faith. Crowe brings a great sense of fear and humanity to a character I'm sure many of us shortchange or overlook in the long run, and Aronofsky assures that we have ideas in our head while watching Noah so there is no character disconnect on display.
While Aronofsky may have a hugely inflated budget for Noah, that doesn't change the fact that his meditative and deeply-contemplative style of filmmaking is not on display anymore. Despite the enormous budget, Aronofsky uses the film as a tool to not only get us to think about our own faith, or lack thereof, but to humanize the character of Noah and detail his struggle by leaving an unblinking focus on him. Rarely is there a frame that he isn't in, as we watch him have his premonitions, construct the ark, then set sail, with family drama and hardships along the way. Few epics - especially ones with this big of a budget and this much publicity - choose to focus so intimately on their lead character, but Aronofsky uses the film's events and its central character as things for the viewer to truly reflect on and think about.
Aronofsky doesn't neglect the aspect of Noah's Ark setting sail either, making the second half of the film largely focused on Noah on the rough waters. If biblical epics have done anything for audiences in recent years (specifically The Passion of the Christ), they have made religious events more frank and honest than they have ever been. I faintly recall learning of Noah's Ark in Sunday School when I was four or five, staring at a cute, animated picture of a large brown ark with Noah and several other animals on it that was painted nicely on the wall. I also remember various animated videos showing Noah constructing an ark and setting sail, treating it like a basic fishing trip where the only additional step was to construct a boat with dozens of animals on it.
Noah shows that if this story really did happen (I have my questions, frankly), the trip would've been hellish and brutal to say the least. Through various scenes of the ark trying to stay afloat on choppy waters, Noah and his family trying to hang on, and so on, the film only goes to show the brutal honesty of how something like this would've happened. Too often do I see religious specials that neuter their content to either make it kid friendly or easier to digest.
Noah is a surprisingly strong film, given its limited story. Its meditative structure, intimate look at its titular character, and the visual aspects (with Aronofsky using sweeping camera movements and tricks in order to give us the experience of being on this ark amid these rough currents) are too often tremendously great to look at. The only misstep is that in its 148-minute runtime there are occasional stretches were the film becomes kind of slog, specifically in the middle as we are watch Noah and his family plan out their survival methods and toss around ideas back and forth for what the future might entail. Such scenes are necessary not only to make the action seem better and more exciting, but to also give more story-leverage, which Aronofsky thankfully doesn't undermine.
Review by Lead Film Critic, Steve PulaskiShare: