"Noah" is the first big-tent film of the spring-summer season and a melding of CGI artistry and spectacle, while adapting that enduring fable lifted from Genesis 6:8 (a dramatic few pages in which God has creator's remorse). It is also, in the main, an intimate character study of one man, Noah (Russell Crowe), who has been given a horrific if not a seemingly impossible task by his creator.
The mission is to build an ark 75 feet high, 45 feet wide and 450 feet in length. On board will be not only his family but two of all the land creatures on Earth.
The purpose of the ship, constructed of timber from trees that spring from previously barren soil (the film was shot in the bleakest parts of Iceland), will be to survive a worldwide diluvial apocalypse in which the Earth will be cleansed of all those who have despoiled it (which is everyone except for Noah and his family).
Noah receives his instructions in a series of dreams that tell him he must begin soon, for the end times will arrive, and he must be ready.
And so Noah begins, with the help of his wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) and his children. But the creator also provides the help of enormous stone creatures (once fallen angels) called Watchers (if there is a moment in the film that is a stretch, it is the appearance of these anthropomorphic creatures).
And thus ends act one. Act two involves the actual construction of the ark and the appearance of a horde of marauders, led by Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone), who are told by Noah there is no place for them on the ark. And as foretold, all creatures large and small begin arriving, taking shelter in the ark.
Noah looks to the heavens and intuits that soon the rains will begin and the flood will be upon them. They are ready.
The embedded question in act three is: Has Noah crossed the line from being a man of deep faith and conviction to a blind zealot and delusional fanatic who is slowly going mad? The other question posed is this: What is there about the story of Noah that so firmly resonates and continues to grip our imaginations across all these centuries?
But then, narratives about apocalyptic events, and what transpires in the aftermath, always seem to have a certain appeal. Film and literature are replete with themes capturing the reactions of those caught up in either the tsunami itself or those who survive in the post-apocalypse period. Both offer an imaginative richness (recall "I am Legend," the recent "World War Z," "Waterworld," or writer Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" to name just four from an impossibly long list). Fantasists spin the tales, and audiences eagerly respond.
Regarding "Noah," there are moments when it is wildly wonderful and grandiose and unexpectedly splendid. And there are moments when writer/director Darren Aronofsky engages in blatant literary license and the film seems a bit contrived.
Is it possible that the ultimate contemporary appeal is to be found in its environmental message, one that is being constructed today regarding a worldwide flood happening in slow motion as the polar icecaps melt and sea levels rise?
Regarding the performances delivered by a truly fine ensemble, they are consistently powerful, led by Crowe and Connelly. Noah is a man under siege, conflicted, and Crowe conveys the character's dilemma with passion. Connelly as Naameh is deeply emotive while sustaining a certain level-headedness regarding her belief in Noah and her commitment to the ark — up to a point. Anthony Hopkins makes a cameo appearance wherein he plays himself with measured wisdom as only Hopkins can.
"Noah" is an uneven film (the Watchers are an unnecessary conceit). But it is also impossible not to be drawn in by its premise and solidly entertained.
As an aside, the film has been banned in certain countries, and certain biblical literalists have taken exception; said controversies will likely add to its box-office gross (the film cost $150 million to produce).