Darren Aronofsky’s Noah couldn’t be accused of being slavishly faithful to its source material. At the same time, it hasn’t taken the greatest deluge ever told and reduced it to fodder for mindless spectacle. Rather, it’s a work of remarkable ambition and often awesome execution that uses its themes to anchor its lavish visuals and sweeping drama.
Having watched the world be corrupted by Cain’s cold-blooded descendants, The Creator has decided to cleanse it with a vengeance. Noah (Russell Crowe, well-suited to such sombre material) receives his divine orders through a corpse-strewn vision: assemble an ark that can withstand the impending great flood and preserve the animal kingdom.
Recognising that the Bible has left itself somewhat open to interpretation, Aronofsky takes liberties with scripture and indulges in some bold stylistic choices. Roaming the devastated landscape are The Watchers, monolithic fallen angels who seem to have crawled off a workbench in Ray Harryhausen’s studio. Elsewhere, the story of Genesis is recounted via strobing time-lapse images and Clint Mansell’s spacey score proves conducive to the odd hallucinatory flourish.
That said, Aronofsky’s riskiest – and most rewarding – decision is positioning the flood as the centrepiece of his film rather than the climax. A ferocious onslaught of CGI and practical effects, it’s one of the more impressively orchestrated disasters unleashed on the big screen.
Furthermore, it makes no bones about the casualties associated with this act of God. A shot of doomed souls hopelessly clinging to the last vestiges of land is sure to rattle even the most hardened moviegoer.
But it’s with good reason that Aronofsky’s film draws its name from the deeply conflicted man who survives it (and provides Crowe with his best role in years). Noah is reimagined here as a proto-environmentalist whose values and beliefs are an affront to Tubal-cain (a fearsome Ray Winstone) and his barbarian hordes. As the outsider determines the fate of his family (Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson and Logan Lerman), guilt and doubt tear at his conscience.
As such, the film’s most tumultuous scenes actually arrive once the waters have stilled. While there’s still a formidable adversary for Noah to overcome, the film hinges on his struggles with his devotion. Mustering elemental levels of anguish, Crowe ensures it’s a riveting showdown.
Aronofsky’s first bona-fide blockbuster is a sweat-stained labour of love. Audacious and uncompromising, it’s a legitimate epic.