In the beginning there were... rock monsters. Darren Aronofsky’s bold, bonkers epic certainly isn’t the Bible as you learned it in Sunday School. Rather, it’s the version of Genesis you might have played as a kid using a pint-sized ark, plus toy soldiers, assorted beasts and whatever else came to hand.
Aronofsky certainly risks hokum with a fantasy blockbuster where leaves are used as pregnancy tests, incense can lull the animals (two by two) into the deepest of sleeps, and building a giant wooden ark is no sweat if you subcontract the work to a gang of fallen angels. Yet strangely it coheres as a mad piece of filmmaking unlike anything else around, marrying the psychological character studies of Aronofsky’s recent output (The Wrestler, Black Swan) to the hypnotic visions with which he made his name (Pi, Requiem For A Dream).
Noah – at least this version – couldn’t have been made by anybody else. Propelled by the rhapsodic rhythms of Clint Mansell’s score, Aronofsky aspires to a visionary, art/pop retelling of Biblical lore and frequently achieves it with astonishing, bravura moments. Mansell’s score is silenced as an angel ascends to heaven during a thunderous battle. Birds journey to the ark in ravishing time-lapse photography. A flashback to creation fuses theology and evolution. The fall of mankind is rendered as a shadowplay of historical warfare, as a dozen aggressors kill a dozen victims in rapid-fire flickering.
Admittedly, as anybody who has seen The Fountain will know, profundity is a hit-andmiss affair for Aronofsky. Sometimes Noah runs out of inspiration, whether it’s the banal greeting-card cliché of a dove carrying an olive branch, or a sunset meeting that resembles the cover to Simply Red’s Stars album. Dialogue scenes don’t always get the attention warranted to the set-pieces and, for a director capable of guiding actors to career-best work, there are hammy performances by Anthony Hopkins and Ray Winstone, and blank ones by Douglas Booth and Logan Lerman.
Yet the narrative and thematic concerns outweigh the awkwardness. As Noah (Russell Crowe) dares to ask whether mankind is really worth saving, the Old Testament is rendered in all of its fire-and-brimstone cruelty. Animals are ripped apart for their flesh, women are bartered for sex, innocents are stampeded to death – yet Noah might be the most frightening man of all.
During its final act, the story crystallises into a dark, daring tale of infanticide that brings out impassioned performances from Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson and especially Crowe, who hasn’t been this wired in years. With Noah retrofitted as the prototype for Aronofsky’s crazed obsessives, the result is that rare blockbuster that doesn’t compromise its director’s independent roots.
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