Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Noah Review

Writing a review for "Noah" is hard. In general, I've been having a tough time with writing these days so I decided to give myself time to mull this one over. Is there something wrong with me? I don't know anymore. But "Noah" is definitely a confounding film. It's frustrating, in a lot of ways. It makes my brain hurt. "Noah" wasn't a difficult movie to understand or anything, but my feelings regarding the movie are so mixed that it's really hard to put an official stamp on it. There are some truly beautiful moments in "Noah" and there are many aspects of the movie that are enjoyable. There are some things that director Darren Aronofsky nailed perfectly, but there's also some downright silly moments. And because there is such an earnest tone to the proceedings, it makes it harder to ignore the silliness.

But if there is one thing that is undeniable, it's this: "Noah" is the work of a true artist. In all of its flaws, the fact that "Noah" largely comes across as a $125 million art film is kind of remarkable. There's such a singularity and strong sense of vision to this film and it's very nice (and sometimes poignant) to see Aronofsky completely bare his soul the way he does here. The dissenters to this movie, the over-sensitive religious types, have never looked more stupid than they have these past few weeks. They reacted much more harshly towards "Last Temptation of Christ," for sure, but you would think we would be past the sort of childish overreactions that we have been seeing in regards to "Noah." It's one man completely baring his soul to us. A man who is 100% honest in his interpretation of this Biblical tale - why can't people accept that this is just an interpretation? And, really, the changes he's made to the story actually make a lot of sense and fits within the overall moral behind the story of Noah's Ark. So what the fuck are we arguing about, then?

Russell Crowe plays Noah. A vision is sent to him by God (known primarily as "the Creator" in the movie), which tells him that the entire world will be flooded in the near future. Noah, his wife, along with his three sons and adopted daughter, travel with him to meet Methuselah, Noah's grandfather. Here, Noah receives another vision and is convinced that he must build an ark. The ark must hold two of every animal, male and female, but what makes this story intriguing is how Noah comes to terms with whether or not his family is worthy enough to be included in the ark too.

How will the human race start over? Noah and Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) have their three sons and the eldest is in love with the adopted daughter. But she cannot conceive. Will Noah find wives for his sons before the flood happens? No, Noah says. After witnessing the disgusting ways in which humanity lives, Noah ultimately feels that mankind carries too much sin and hatred to be worthy of starting over. The human race, Noah decides, will die with them. That's what he thinks God wants. This, of course, does not go over too well with his family. Especially when his adopted daughter Ila (Emma Watson) discovers that she's able to conceive after all (thanks to some help by Methuselah... don't take that the wrong way), Noah's decision to remain so loyal to God slowly starts to turn his entire family apart.

I love the familial melodrama of this story. I also love the amazing special effects that Aronofsky shows off at just the right times. The way trees start springing up all around Noah so that he can build his ark is some awe-inspiring stuff. There is some really nifty snapshot editing, in one scene in particular, which showcases the creation of a river (or some body of water) that floored me. There were many other little flourishes that Aronofsky dropped here and there that really made "Noah" stand out from a visual standpoint. The way Noah and his family cast faded silhouettes in the middle of a barren landscape---it's breathtaking stuff.

But the movie also has many hiccups along the way. Russell Crowe's really become an uninteresting actor over the years. He's so plain, glum, uninteresting. He has his moments in the second half, but I never really felt his pain. I never found him compelling enough. Noah, as a character, is very compelling, but Russell Crowe underplayed him so much that, when he has his big moments in the second half of the film, they just don't feel right. His acting is often why the film feels so silly. "Noah" goes into some really weird places and Russell Crowe's doesn't appear to have the dramatic chops to let the weirdness sink in. It just didn't flow right. Maybe it's mean to put the blame on Crowe, but he's been a problem for me in many movies in the past few years.

Connelly, the young actors who play Noah's sons (especially Logan Lerman), and Emma Watson all look pretty great by comparison. Ray Winstone, who's been given the misfortune of playing a rather one-note villain, still manages to redeem himself with some well-done scenes in the latter half of the film.

"Noah" also has a wonderful score. Clint Mansell, whose worked with Aronofsky on all of his previous films, does some beautiful work here. There's something otherworldly, formless, and floaty about his score. It does a great job of making the film feel more wondrous and he's been Aronofsky's not-so-secret weapon for many years.

Like I said, it's hard to come up with an official verdict for this film. I have my complaints, but there are also many aspects of the film that I really enjoyed. This is not an easy film to pin down and it won't sit right with many people. There will be times where you'll feel the urge to laugh. Sometimes this movie goes down some fairly ridiculous roads and it's up to you whether or not you're willing to go with it or if you just feel the need to check out.

But I really loved the way the film depicted Noah's struggle. In a way, "Noah" is an epic close to Aronofsky's obsession trilogy. "The Wrestler", "Black Swan", and "Noah" are each about a character who is utterly obsessed with achieving some sort of goal. Randy "The Ram" Robinson would do anything to get back in the ring one more time, Nina Sayers will stop at nothing to play the lead (or leads) in Black Swan. "Noah" is, perhaps, the most extreme version of this obsession. Noah is so willing to obey The Creator that he's willing to do commit a horrific act of violence just to prove his loyalty. It's shocking, it's unnerving, but it's so thematically on point that I couldn't help but get sucked in to his struggle. It felt uneasy to watch Aronofsky go into this extreme direction, but it worked for me.

I am not a religious guy, but I respect religion and I enjoy the great Biblical epics of the 1950s. I loved "The Last Temptation of Christ" too. I love when a filmmaker puts his whole heart and soul up on the screen, and watching he/she struggle to come to terms with their faith. For Martin Scorsese, it was his Catholicism that he struggled with. With Darren Aronofsky, his religious beliefs are a bit more ambiguous but he does have a Jewish background. I have questions too. We all have questions about God and faith and where we came from; it's ok if we struggle to come up with answers. "Noah" can be a silly movie at times but Aronofsky's voice felt real to me. I had a tough time accepting the animated rocks that walked and talked, but those little details didn't really matter in the end.

Darren Aronofsky, in interviews, says he wanted to tell this story of Noah. But really, he wants to tell his story. Despite some people's protests, most of this film is actually fairly faithful to the original source material (Old Testament), but this is moreso Noah's story coming straight from Aronofsky's heart. It may be an unconventional film, as far as faith/religious movies go, but Aronofsky is unafraid of sharing with us his unconventional views and beliefs. He's given us a $125 million epic that has something to say about life, faith, and family. When do we ever get a $125 million movie that actually has something meaningful to say?

Grade: Impossible to grade this one, just go see the damn movie

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