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On Review: 'Noah'

April 4, 2014

Editor's Note: This monthly installment of movie reviews by Spirit employees Matt Triponey and Dan Long rates Noah.

In Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, there's a scene where young Huck faces a moral crisis — his entire life, he's been told it's a sin to assist the enslaved in freeing themselves.

However, over the course of his journey, he's become friends with the runaway slave Jim, whose freedom is now at stake. So, faced with a choice, Huck says one of the book's most famous lines: "All right, then, I'll go to hell." And he helps his friend.

Another example can be found in C.S. Lewis' The Silver Chair, when the children and their Narnian friend decide to continue seeking a better place despite having been bewitched into believing that the dark, miserable expanse of Underland is all there ever was and all there ever will be.

And now, Darren Aronofsky's Noah.

The stories told by all three of these artists hinge on a central theme: a conflict between their protagonists' consciences and what they perceive to be reality, up to and including what they perceive to be the will of God.

There are some stories that everyone knows, and regardless of how often they've been adapted for the screen, everyone has heard them told dozens of times in different ways by different people, so what Aronofsky accomplishes here truly is extraordinary — he takes a well-known tale and wrests something new and vital out of it.

And though he's made changes to and expansions upon the material, he takes it quite seriously, attending both to the questions he sees as inherent in it and to the emotional consequences of what happens.

He begins by creating quite the spectacular world for his film to inhabit. I'm hard-pressed to think of a film that feels like this one. It's reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings in its visuals and sounds and the sense of history that pervades everything, but it's played with the desolate, apocalyptic tone found in such films as The Road.

And it's that sense of a world in its last gasp that allows Aronofsky to spearhead the story into an examination of good and evil, honing in on the ways in which no one is fully one or the other and using that to apply a particular complexity to what is, on the surface, a relatively simple story.

It turns all its story and character elements into mechanisms by which to ask very serious questions about morality, faith and the conflicts that can arise between the two.

It's particularly interested in the weight of the burden that has fallen upon Noah's shoulders.

The film makes him a very complex man, and it becomes Russell Crowe's best performance in a long time — in his eyes, you can see the weariness and the conflict, how torn he is over what he must do.

Throughout the film, he weighs the same moral struggle that struck Huckleberry Finn, as his sense of what's right wars against his perception of what he must do.

The film incorporates Noah's family into this debate: One of them makes the choice Huck made, another becomes stuck between both worldviews and still others become the product of Noah's conflict, the proof that he is not far off in his suspicion that he has done wrong.

And it's that conflict that ultimately defines what this story is truly about. And it sees it all the way through to the end and strikes at something resonant and important, now perhaps more than ever.

It's not a perfect film by any means, but is anything, really? That Noah's success as a film very nearly reaches its lofty ambitions is enough worth celebrating.

Rating: 4 out of 5 raindrops.

DVD Recommendation for April: The Best Picture nominees of 2013 are finally appearing on home media, and it'd be hard to go wrong with any of them — especially the winner, 12 Years a Slave. But my heartiest recommendation goes to my current favorite film of 2013 — Short Term 12, an involving and intelligent portrait of teenagers in a group care home trying to move on from their abusive childhoods. I can't recommend it highly enough.

For more from Matt, check out his website,
http://writersblockparade.wordpress.com.

— By Matthew Triponey

* * *
When I walked in to see Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, I thought I was going to see a film comparable to Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments with some special effects thrown in to tie the plot together.

The film I saw strayed so far from the Biblical tale that I’m not quite sure what I had watched when it was over. That didn’t bother me, though. Aronofsky had every right to take the movie whatever direction he desired, it’s just that the direction he chose didn’t work.

I was confused right from the opening scene. Noah starts off with text on the screen explaining the origins of life with some CGI that didn’t fit the rest of the film. It felt so odd to me that I thought I was watching another preview when the movie began.

Before I realized it, Noah was talking to rock monsters called “The Watchers” that looked like they belonged in Lord of the Rings or should have been fighting Thor. The movie took such great liberties with the Biblical tale that I actually laughed on a few occasions due to its the outlandish nature.

My biggest complaint about Noah was that it lacked an identity. It wasn’t a character piece, nor was it a true epic.

The film did a decent job of showing Noah’s struggles, his unquestionable faith to “the Creator” and the tough decisions he had to make, but it all got muddled in battle scenes and a weak family dynamic that the film so desperately wanted to establish. Russell Crowe’s character also takes a dramatic turn late in the movie that left me confused with the direction Aronofsky was trying to take him.

As far as acting goes, there was nothing particularly dynamic about Crowe’s performance as Noah. There were few scenes where he really had to convey much emotion.

When he did have a dramatic scene, he did a serviceable job, but his performance was not of the caliber of say, Gladiator. I thought Emma Watson gave the best performance out of anyone, as her role as Ila was the only one that stuck out.

The relationship between the family, which was supposed to be a staple of the film, felt undeveloped, as some of the characters got little screen time and even less back story.

Noah also suffered from an unsteady pace, as the biggest event — the flood — takes place around the middle of the film. Then, you must suffer through a lackluster second half that deals with the family’s issues on the ark.

The film wasn’t all bad, though. The special effects were solid, and even though the battle scenes felt out of place, they were well done. I thought one the more eerie moments of the film was when Noah could hear the people screaming outside the arc and due to his unrelenting faith to “The Creator,” he would not help them. Noah could have benefited from more scenes like that.

That, however, led to a scene where Noah talks about creation in another moment that felt out of place and didn’t match the rest of the film’s narrative.

All in all, I would not suggest going to see Noah. It’s a muddled mess that lacks identity and just came across as strange, and not in a good way.

Rating: 1.5 raindrops out of 5.

— By Dan Long

For more from Dan Long, like Dan Long Comedy on Facebook.

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