It could have been a disaster. An implausible story from a book of often improbable events written by desert-dwellers 2,000 years ago. A man lives to be 950 years old. He has children when he is 500 and builds an ark to survive a worldwide flood which wipes out the rest of life on earth.
Making a plausible, entertaining movie about the Biblical story of Noah seems a challenge beyond even Hollywood's estimable skills. Does one hue to the original screen play, the Bible, and risk it being laughable. Or does one reconstruct a more updated allegory? Would its earnest retelling bring a deluge of ridicule or would it lose its resonance with modernization? Most importantly for Hollywood, would people come to watch? Clearly there was Noah accounting for taste.
The product itself was watertight. Darren Aronofsky directs the dark tale with skill and depth, if not always restraint. Despite the protestations of Bible thumpers, the film is painfully loyal to its Biblical roots. Jerry Johnson, President of the National Religious Broadcasters, lambasts the movie for "the insertion of an extremist environmental agenda" and Brian Godawa, a "commentator" on Christian issues, attacked the film as "environmental paganism" made by a self-proclaimed atheist (Daily Telegraph, Entertainment Section, 3/25/2014).
But the atheist Aronofsky, his crew and cast have put together a compelling work which raises not just environmental but moral and religious issues. The film is also a very entertaining disaster epic. Aronofsky's pacing carries one deftly and earnestly through the centuries of Noah, building excruciating dramatic tensions, especially for a story whose ending is well-known.
The cast is nothing less than masterful. Russell Crowe, as Noah, is tortured by the moral demise of mankind and crushed by the weight of his god-given doomsday charge. His family has suffered at the hands of descendants of Cain, barely surviving the ravaged landscape and constant murderous forays of Cain's minions. Noah knows there is no reason to question the word of his God. His every experience reinforces his old world view. So according to command, he sets about saving the innocents, the animals, but executing the extinction of mankind.
Though the part hardly tests his range, Crowe is convincingly troubled, plumbing depths and possibly resurrecting his career. Hopefully, we won't have to see him again in works such as The Man with the Iron Fists or struggling to sing his way through Les Miserables.
As always, Aronofsky gets stellar performances from his entire talented cast. Jenniffer Connelly is an able Noah-foil -- backing, testing and challenging her almighty-possessed husband. Anthony Hopkins contrasts as a sometimes lighthearted Methusaleh. Emma Watson, thankfully emerges later in the film to give it additional emotional resonance. And Ray Winstone extends his familiar criminal repertoire to Biblical proportions as the flood worthy Tubal-cain.
Tirelessly, though frequently, the entire cast sets in front of us the central theme -- the need to start over and create a better world because of human failures. The exploitation of resources, natural and human, then as now, have put the species and future of the globe in severe and ultimate jeopardy. Climate change references are unavoidable. Human will, choice and mercy confront us for two taut hours as the harsh Old Testament versus more forgiving New Testament sensibilities struggle over the soul and future of our planet.
Noah is quite a good movie, the themes of which are still and again in front of us. It has aged well!