REVIEW: NOAH **½
Darren Aronofsky is best known for smaller scale fare, like "Requiem for a Dream" (2000) or "Black Swan" (2010). Now he's taken on an epic movie, based on a fairly brief Biblical story.
Some will debate whether the film's approach is sufficiently respectful of its origins. Aside from the odd appearance of rock people who were fallen angels banished to earth, the film does take on a spiritual tone. However, Aronofksy seems surprisingly more interested in creating an action picture than in getting too deep into the meaning of the story.
A young Noah (Dakota Goyo, Real Steel) witnesses his father Lamech's (Marton Csokas, The Amazing Spider-Man 2) death at the hands of Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone, The Proposition). Flash forward years later, Noah is married to Naameh (Jennifer Connelly, A Beautiful Mind), with three sons. They are Shem (Douglas Booth, 2013's Romeo and Juliet), Japheth (Leo McHugh Carroll, Fred Claus) and Ham (Logan Lerman, The Perks of Being a Wallflower). The family also adopts a little girl whose village has been destroyed.
One day Noah sees a flower bloom in an instant out of the ground. He begins to experience harrowing nightmares of the world's destruction, and goes to his grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins, The Silence of the Lambs) for advice. He is given a seed from Eden, which grows a forest within mere seconds, providing the material for the fabled Ark. When discovered by Tubal-Cain, a stand-off occurs where a vow of revenge is made against Noah for refusing his men passage to the Ark.
As the time draws near to the flooding from his visions, Noah's family begins to breakdown in a series of arguments over whether they are meant to survive. Ham wants a wife, but Noah sees the nearby camp settlement as a swarm of sin and forbids it. Nevertheless, the son goes and finds a woman only to arrive at the same time as an attack by Tubal-Cain is in progress. When the girl is killed, Ham blames his father, thus setting up a scheme by Tubal-Cain later in the film to take down Noah. Meanwhile, Naameh pleads with Methuselah for help. Her plea leads to the once barren Ila (Emma Watson, The Perks of Being a Wallflower), their adopted daughter, to become pregnant by Shem. When Noah learns of this he is furious, convinced that it is not part of The Creator's plan for mankind, and vows to kill the baby should it be a girl. Thus sets up the finale, where a final conflict between Noah and his offspring stand-off, with Tubal-Cain attempting to use that as a weapon against him.
Noah is an ambitious action film, rather than a Bible story that happens to have action in it. I think this is an important distinction, because the goal here seems to be to tell a fable with lots of special effects. It is not, apparently, to tell the story faithfully. And you know what? That's okay. Noah succeeds in being an entertaining movie. There is a sense of spirituality in parts of the film, such as when Noah explains the creation of the universe to his children, but it's mainly in the service of action and effects. As an entertainment, this is sufficient. Chances are, you will enjoy the movie. But it doesn't reach greatness, because it hedges its bets in order to reach the largest possible audience by toning down its religious origins, thereby losing some of the passion it might have displayed.