Posted by Joel Copling on March 28, 2014

The tale of Noah and his providential destiny--to save the innocent of mankind who would perish in a catastrophic flood that covered the whole of Earth--is, for a time, given the proper weight and levity by co-writer/director Darren Aronofsky, whose fittingly titled "Noah" begins as a study of the burden that this task places on the man himself. He is played by perhaps the only person who makes sense in the role, Russell Crowe, who approaches this character with just the right level of duty given to him by a creator he doesn't fully understand, rather than broadly playing him as a man seized by insane visions. There is nuance to this performance that exists few places elsewhere, especially in the bloated final act.

For a while though, Aronofsky's screenplay (co-written with Ari Handel) is completely engrossing as it depicts a Noah plagued by visions of destructive water and new life emerging from it (Some of these, such as a flower growing "from nothing," may be real, but Aronofsky and Handel thoughtfully keep it close to the chest). He saw his father Lamech (Marton Csokas), one of the last in line from Seth, murdered at the hands of another man. Now, he receives images of utter devastation from a creator who, it is said, has not reached out to His creation since the days of Adam and Eve (played very briefly by Adam Marshall Griffith and Ariane Rinehart in a particularly effective montage sequence halfway through). The solution presents itself with help from Noah's grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins, also in a role that only makes sense if he fills it): to build an ark that holds those worth saving.

Predictably, Noah receives resistance, not just from without but also from within. Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone), who proclaims himself king of the entire land, scoffs at the idea of an extinction event from a god to and from whom he feels much skepticism and abandonment. He leads a resistance just as the floodgates--literal and figurative, but mostly literal--open upon the wicked outside of the ark (which, by the way, is guarded by Watchers, fallen angels cast down to Earth from Heaven and encased in the prison of rock-hardened bodies--an effective but oddball visual effect closer to Tolkien, not the Old Testament, than Christians in the audiences might prefer). Noah's middle son Ham (Logan Lerman), meanwhile, feels lonely and betrayed by a father who never sought to please him and the lack of a wife to carry on his legacy. Lerman is particularly effective at internalizing this familial divide, especially in the face of suffering a terrible loss at the beginning of the third act.

The film, however, suffers from a excess of these melodramatic elements. Noah's wife Naameh might be a sturdy presence, played with the utmost sincerity by Jennifer Connelly, but material involving their other son Shem (Douglas Booth) and adopted daughter-in-law Ila (Emma Watson) ratchets the film's ultimate sincerity into overdrive, resulting merely in mawkishness. Japtheth (Leo McHugh Carroll), Noah and Naameh's third child through birth, is more or less ignored. By the time the family is thrust into the waters, it's lucky that the first hour and change is this absorbing and faultlessly crafted, because the homestretch morphs the challenging Aronofsky passion project that audiences were promised into a chamber piece with more than flashes of a soul but not quite the soulful impact this story could have had.

Film Information

Russell Crowe (Noah), Jennifer Connelly (Naameh), Emma Watson (Ila), Logan Lerman (Ham), Ray Winstone (Tubal-cain), Anthony Hopkins (Methuselah), Douglas Booth (Shem), Mark Margolis (Magog), Kevin Durand (Rameel), Leo McHugh Carroll (Japheth), Marton Csokas (Lamech), Finn Wittrock (Young Tubal-cain), Madison Davenport (Na'el), Gavin Casalegno (Young Shem), Nolan Gross (Young Ham), Skylar Burke (Young Ila), Dakota Goyo (Young Noah), Ariane Rinehart (Eve), Adam Marshall Griffith (Adam), Don Harvey (Mean Uncle), Sami Gayle (Refugee Daughter).

Featuring the voices of Nick Nolte (Samyaza) and Frank Langella (Og).

Directed by Darren Aronofsky and written by Aronofsky and Ari Handel.

Rated PG-13 (violence, disturbing images, brief suggestive content).

138 minutes.

Released on March 28, 2014.