Noah Review – A Mixed Boat
If you’re friends with me on Facebook, you’ve already gotten my short take on Noah, but for those of you who haven’t, I’ve decided to write this to give a more in-depth analysis of the film.
I would like to preface this review with two bits of information. First of all, since this is my first entry to Screen Rebellion, I’d like to say that my policy on reviewing movies, TV shows, comics, novels, etc. is that unless specified, spoilers should remain out as much as possible. Seeing how this is a very old biblical tale that most of us in the Western World are already familiar with, there probably isn’t much to spoil, but this is a Hollywood movie, and as such, things will change. Secondly, like Darren Aronofsky, I am not a Christian. In fact, we’re both atheists—Darren just comes from a Jewish background, whereas I do not. That being said, changing certain details from scripture isn’t going to ruffle any of my feathers, and I hope that anyone reading this who considers his or herself a devout Christian or Jew will understand that it shouldn’t ruffle yours either. Hollywood turned a character in the Bible into an action hero…so what? It doesn’t change what’s in the Bible, and even if the movie’s depiction of the people in the Bible offends you, you’re more than welcome to use “the book was better” excuse.
That being said, let’s delve into Noah.
We’ll first examine what this movie did well. While I sometimes feel that his style comes a little too close to Christopher Nolan’s, Darren is an artist with the camera.
Notice the similar lighting and color filters? Almost looks like two shots from the same movie.
If you’ve seen any of his other films, you know that he has a taste for the surreal and unsettling, and this film is no exception. However, I never really felt like it was strangeness for its own sake. The designs of the creatures and supernatural beings seen in Noah do a good job of making you feel like you’ve entered a different kind of world in which the remnants of a more magical time are still lingering. Moments like these really made for a beautiful viewing. For Darren, this might be his most “Hollywood” film to date.
However, as much as I enjoyed the Ray Harryhausen-esque design of the angels, the first time I saw them, this was the first image that came to mind.
Sick as I am of the overuse of CGI, the special effects team did a fantastic job of making them appear more like stop-motion animation, and maybe it’s just nostalgia on my part, but I really miss that kind of imaginative touch to movies. Sure, puppets and stop-motion look a little corny, but at least you can tell that the objects are really there, and I can find much more respect in my heart for the painstaking effort it takes to create effects like that.
Aside from the technical aspects of Noah, Aronofsky also delivers a pretty solid story. No, it’s not the most original one we’ve ever heard—hell, most of us already know it—but it has set-ups and pay-offs, a good conflict, rising action, great moments of action and does one thing that none of the other recent religious movies will do: question the morality of God’s decision. As Noah and his family stow away aboard the ark, Noah must sit inside and listen to the horrible screaming of the entire world drowning in agony knowing that he must not save any of them. Not only that, but they never mention God by name—he’s only referred to as the Creator—and we never get to see him, which I think sends a more powerful message to convey how alone Noah is in his labors and how this responsibility is all on him. At no point does the story ever become sectarian either. It doesn’t care whether you believe in it or not; it’s just here to tell a story.
Now, I’m afraid I must get to what didn’t work for this movie. The most glaring problem—and it causes the film to lose some serious points—is the acting, and what’s worse is that there is talent all around this picture. There are three Academy Award winners in this cast, and none of them seem to give a damn about anything they say. None of the lines felt natural or believable. The emotions felt forced. What happened? I almost can’t decide who was worse: Russell Crowe or Jennifer Connelly. Jennifer has worked with Aronofsky before on Requiem For A Dream, and her performance was fine. In this film, she doesn’t do much other than cry and question Noah’s judgment all while still going along with everything he does, and when she has to show some raw emotion, you can see the wheels turning from a mile away. Everything about her performance felt telegraphed, and if we see everything coming, there’s nothing to keep up intrigued. As for Russell…well, ever since he won his Oscar, he’s phoned in most of his roles. His delivery was flat and dull. He seemed completely disinterested in everything happening around him. (Although, on the bright side, at least he didn’t sing.)
The only performances that I didn’t completely dislike were Anthony Hopkins’ and Emma Watson’s. Hopkins didn’t seem to care anymore than his costars, but unlike everyone else, he seemed to be the only actor having fun with his role, and that’s why I love him. Regardless of what he’s doing, he always brings the right kind of energy to the movie to at least keep the audience invested. While I’m not a huge fan of Emma, I’ll give her credit for giving more effort than any other actor in this film. She was probably the only one whose emotions I believed. Unfortunately, that’s about all I can say. Every other actor was playing a pretty useless role and didn’t have much to work with.
While I could nitpick other negativity about Noah, there is one detail that I feel shouldn’t be overlooked. Irrespective of how we see this movie, whether as a filmed version of our religious teachings or just a story with fantastical elements, Noah’s family is assumed to be our ancestors who’ve brought us to the vast population we have today. Why then is everyone in this movie white?! I’m not just talking about Noah and his family; EVERYONE in this movie is white! For a movie that gives credit to evolution taking places after the creation of life by God, it kind of ignores a huge scientific fact that the roots of homo sapiens are traced to Africa and that the earliest humans were not white people. I have no idea whose decision this was, but I think it reflects a larger problem going on with Hollywood. While this might not have anything to do with the film proper, Noah serves as a reminder that Hollywood doesn’t put much stock into non-white talent being able to mass commercial appeal, and example after example can be given to demonstrate how false that notion is…but that’s another discussion for another day.
To summarize, Noah is a movie that just barely makes it over to the positive side by sheer force of its direction and production. It’s just a shame that a movie with some good potential had to be wasted on underwhelming acting and latent racism from the studio by white-washing the entire cast. If you’re a fan of movies with trippy visuals and solid direction, this movie might be worth watching. While its size and beauty may not be as grand as a movie like Gravity, it’s still a pretty impressive display and worth your time if you like your movie to have good atmosphere. However, if you prefer a movie with great characters delivered by good actors, you won’t lose any sleep over missing this one.