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by Leonard Maltin
March 28, 2014 12:01 AM
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Russell Crowe-Jennifer Connelly-485-b
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures and Regency Entertainment

Noah may not be a perfect film, or even a great one, but it has much to recommend it: tremendous ambition, an intelligent concept and superior craftsmanship. At the outset, I was reminded of Darren Aronofsky’s audacious debut feature pi; it’s a long road from that provocative indie to this $130 million dollar epic, but the filmmaker is still an original thinker and visualist. Not that Noah is aimed at the art-house crowd: it’s a mass-audience movie that dares to expand upon what we know about a famous Biblical figure. (Two nuns sitting near me were impressed with Aronofsky’s research and gave the picture their wholehearted approval.)

Trouble begins with Original Sin. Some generations later, Noah has a vision which he doesn’t understand, at first. Gradually he realizes that the Creator has chosen him to help the innocents of the world (namely, the animals) survive a flood that will wipe humankind off the face of the earth.

In terms of spectacle, Noah delivers what you would expect in the era of CGI: the building of the ark and the coming of the flood are particularly impressive. Oddly, the parade of animals toward the ark doesn’t have the impact it should because we’ve been conditioned to take this kind of imagery for granted. If there had been just one live elephant or giraffe it might have sold the sequence better; it’s an unfortunate missed opportunity.

What one doesn’t expect to see is a collection of characters who might have come from a Ray Harryhausen feature. These fallen angels are known as the Watchers and look like a string of boulders cobbled together in skeletal form. They serve an important role in the saga and certainly enliven the film as a piece of entertainment.

Russell Crowe-Ray Winstone-485
Photo by Niko Tavernise - Courtesy of Paramount Pictures and Regency Enterprises

But Noah rises or falls on the human element of its story, largely invented by filmmaker Darren Aronofsky and his screenwriting partner Ari Handel. They succeed in the expositional portion of the film, as we meet the devout, kindhearted hero and his loving family. Russell Crowe gives one of his best performances in the lead, and Jennifer Connelly is quite good as his loving, patient wife. The younger leads do their best, but their roles—and dialogue—are more problematic.

The film faces its greatest challenge in the climactic portion of the story, as Noah is put to his ultimate test. Here the movie becomes overheated and angst-ridden, as Noah alienates himself from his own family, for the sake of fulfilling his covenant with the Creator. We understand what is at stake, but some of the histrionics flirt uncomfortably with melodrama.  

Noah benefits from standout performances in two key supporting roles. Anthony Hopkins brings a welcome, unexpected lightness of touch to his portrayal of Methuselah, Noah’s grandfather, while Ray Winstone reminds us of his extraordinary power as Tubal-cain, the ferocious leader who dares to defy Noah. It takes a commanding actor to stand toe to toe with Russell Crowe at his most imposing, and Winstone is the man for the job.

I give Aronofsky credit, not just for tackling this subject matter, but for making a broadly entertaining, great-looking movie, even with its flaws. Noah is a distinctive film, even with its flaws, and certainly worth seeing.

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  • Julie | April 18, 2014 10:43 AMReply

    How could nuns give their "wholehearted approval"? Have they read Genesis 6-9? There is no mention of Tubal Cain, no one stowed-away on the Ark, and God did NOT tell Noah that the human race should die out with his family. There is no mention of Noah leaving his son's new female friend to be trampled, because all three sons had wives on the Ark. God found favor with Noah's entire family. There is no mention of boulder creatures building the Ark. There is no mention of Methusalah at all; let alone touching a young woman's abdomen so she can conceive twins! Leonard. . .how could you not mention the fabricated story?

  • Ann | March 29, 2014 12:01 PMReply

    I am glad this movie stars at least two Jewish actors (Jennifer Connelly, whose mother is Jewish, and Logan Lerman, who is 100% Jewish). As opposed to the upcoming Exodus, which has no Jews in it at all.

  • Martin Manning | March 31, 2014 3:22 AM

    But Noah nor his family were Jewish.
    Abraham was the first Jewish patriarch.

  • kenneth rowland | March 28, 2014 10:50 PMReply

    I thought the moviedid'nt go along with the Bible and that's so sad.If you make a picture from true events then it should be just that,True.

  • Norm | March 28, 2014 4:20 PMReply

    Interesting to see a Biblical epic these days. Not like the 1950's where people were looking for answers or order. I suppose one would have to ask LM, are what questions does this film answer or satisfy? I want to know if it was 7 animals of each kind or just 2...and who is going to clean up that mess...

  • Richard | March 28, 2014 3:44 PMReply

    Those who tend to disect the Noah story have no trouble believing all animals grew and evolved from a single cell microscopic amoeba but can't fathom God directing and leading his creations to safety.

    The difference between man and animals is animals know who created them without being told and listen to their creator when bad weather is coming. They always know before the storm hits.

  • Carl LaFong | March 29, 2014 12:21 PM

    Please cite in Darwin where it states that "all animals grew and evolved from a single cell microscopic amoeba." Your ignorance of evolution theory is breathtaking.

  • Lee | March 28, 2014 2:13 AMReply

    Does the movie reveal how long it took Noah to travel all over the world to collect two of every species on Earth?

    I suspect that the aboriginal Australians were a little befuddled when Noah arrived and said that he had to take some kangaroos and koalas to survive an impending flood.

  • Julie | April 18, 2014 10:56 AM

    Good question, Lee. That made me wonder long ago if the whole earth was flooded, or just the land that people were aware of at that time. It IS a fantastic story. I had to decide, finally, that as difficult as it is to believe some of the Bible stories and in a Creator, it was more difficult for me to believe that this miraculous earth and the infinite variety on it, was/is just an 'accident'.

  • Brian | March 28, 2014 12:57 AMReply

    I saw those scenes in "Noah" between Russel Crowe and Anthony Hopkins and remembered the last time they shared a scene together, in the 1992 Australian movie "Spotswood" (released in the US as "The Efficency Expert") -- a lovely little movie about a moccasin factory in 1964 Melbourne with Anthony Hopkins as an effeicency expert sent to close the factory (and naturally, ends up trying to save it by the end) and Russell Crowe as one of the suave moccasin salesmen.

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