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"NOAH"
(2014) (Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: A man is called upon by God to build an ark to protect a collection of the world's animals from a flood that will wipe out mankind.
PLOT:
As a descendent of one of Adam and Eve's sons, Noah (RUSSELL CROWE) is a protector of the Creator's prediluvian world, consuming only what he needs and can use, and nothing more. There isn't much in this barren land where he and his wife, Naameh (JENNIFER CONNELLY), are raising their three children, Shem, Ham and infant Japeth. When Noah begins experiencing troubling and confusing visions of some ominous calamity, he travels with his family to seek the sage wisdom of his grandfather, Methuselah (ANTHONY HOPKINS) and eventually comes to realize that the Creator intends to wipe out all living things on Earth in a great flood.

That is, except for pairings of all animals that haven't sinned like man and are to be kept safe on an enormous ark that Noah will build. And thus he sets out to do just that with the help of Naameh and their now older sons, Shem (DOUGLAS BOOTH), Ham (LOGAN LERMAN) and Japheth (LEO McHUGH CARROLL); Ila (EMMA WATSON), a teenage girl they rescued from a massacre ten years earlier; and fallen angels turned enormous rock creatures known as the Watchers who literally do the heavy lifting of assembling the huge boat.

They also serve to protect it and Noah and his family from Tubal-cain (RAY WINSTONE), a descendant of Adam and Eve's murderous son, Cain, who believes the Creator has abandoned mankind that's now free to do as it pleases. He isn't happy with Noah and his quest and thus masses a growing army with which he intends to storm the ark should the flooding commence.

At the same time, Noah believes that once the rest of mankind has been destroyed, his family will eventually follow them, what with no other children and Ila being barren from her earlier injury. But Naameh has different thoughts about that, all while Ham hopes to bring Na'el (MADISON DAVENPORT) onboard as his future wife. When the rains start, all of that and the rest of life on Earth is put into jeopardy, with Noah intent on following and fulfilling the Creator's will.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
I don't recall to which movie the following promotional tagline was associated, but as a kid growing up in the 1970s I do remember seeing or hearing an ad that instructed viewers to keep repeating "It's only a movie...It's only a movie." I'm guessing it was for some horror flick and the publicity department was trying to create controversy by getting people nervous, talking about the release, and then hopefully storming the theaters to see it.

Nowadays, studios obviously still fabricate controversy to generate sales, but in our increasingly paranoid, "they're out to get me/us/our stuff" world, it often pops up from misinformed people or groups who either don't fully know what they're talking about or are operating from their own agenda. To which I say keep repeating that it's only a movie.

Like it or not, artistic license is the artist's prerogative, but any movie based on a previous historical figure or art form will usually have its share of those not particularly pleased with the outcome. And when the adaptation stems from something religious based, that usually draws the most hand-wringing, ire and complaints, more often than not from people who've yet to see the finished product.

All of which brings us around to "Noah," the first big-budget (as in north of $100 million) Bible based movie to come out of Hollywood in a long time (Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" doesn't really fit into that mold as it had a "modest" budget of $30 million). Long ago, the likes of "Ben Hur" and especially "The Ten Commandments" dominated the box office and featured some of Hollywood's biggest players in front of and behind the camera.

Now, with this film and "Exodus" later this year, we might just be witnessing the second coming, so to speak, of big biblical Hollywood films. That is, as long as the outspoken don't shut things down before people get to see such offerings and decide for themselves if they're faithful and/or respectful to the source material.

Accordingly, this review will not go too in-depth regarding how true the film sticks with the passages from the Bible and other religions' accounts of the well-known tale. Instead, as always, I'm going to focus on the artistic merits and whether the offering stands on its own. That said, for the open-minded, I believe the film will likely come off as a thought provoking film that should invite discussion about its interpretation of the story, faith, God and the world in which we live.

While the tale of Noah is obviously one of the better known parts of the Bible (likely from the fantastical elements that mesmerized and likely spooked a lot of kids in Sunday School), there really isn't that much text present about it, particularly in terms of crafting a nearly 140-minute movie out of it. Therefore, writer/director Darren Aronofsky ("Black Swan," "The Wrestler") along with co-scribe Ari Handel have fleshed out certain story details while also delving into the title character's psyche.

It's that latter part that gives the film additional heft as Russell Crowe plays Noah as a devoted man who's respectful of the world created by the Creator, but also a devout follower of what he perceives as God's orders for him to build the ark. There's no direct conversation with the "man upstairs" per se. Instead, Noah has nightmarish visions of an apocalypse and thus seeks out advice and confirmation from his wise but somewhat wily grandfather (played by Anthony Hopkins).

As a result of that, construction of the ark commences with the aid of some characters most won't remember or associate with Noah's tale. And those are the Watchers, fallen angels who crashed to Earth and become encased in its materials, thus turning them into malformed rock behemoths. They're feared by mankind (a credible reaction considering all of the human skulls and skeletons in their vicinity), but eventually come around to be Noah's heavy lifters (that help explain how just Noah and his small family could build such an enormous vessel by hand).

It's an interesting addition to the story, but I'm torn about whether that works, especially because it results in some "Lord of the Rings" inspired "bash them up" battle scenes. It doesn't help that the CGI work done on them is not entirely photo realistic, an odd development considering the film's budget and that other "real" animals and the flood are mostly decently handled by the special effects department.

And since most Hollywood films thrive on dramatic conflict (i.e. a villain) and the original passages don't provide that, Aronofsky and company lift another Biblical figure, Tubal-cain (played by Ray Winstone), and insert him into the tale as the central antagonist. While I appreciate the attempt to fulfill that need, it sort of feels shoehorned in, especially when the villain ends up as a stowaway aboard the ark until the big confrontation near the end of the film.

What's more interesting, however, is Noah's belief that his family (that includes three sons and an adopted daughter rescued from a massacre ten years earlier) is ultimately supposed to perish once the rest of mankind has been wiped out. That puts him at odds with his wife (Jennifer Connelly) who wants their children to have children, an initial sticking point considering that the only available women are her (the wife) and the initially barren teenage girl (who ends up pregnant by the oldest son in sort of an icky, near-incestuous/sibling way).

Much has been made about a late in the film scene where Noah gets drunk from wine he's created. Yet, that is present in the Bible and considering the mental anguish and psychological torment he's suffered while torn between protecting his family and carrying out God's command, it's also easy to understand. And for those who have problems with that, keep repeating it's only a movie, it's only a movie. While not perfect (and certainly not consistent in its visual approach, for the most part I liked enough of "Noah," its messaging about both a vengeful and forgiving God, and its return to epic scale, Biblically based storytelling. The film rates as a 6 out of 10.




Reviewed March 26, 2014 / Posted March 28, 2014


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