Why Noah floats my boat

By Russell Baillie

Playing Noah is Russell Crowe's big gig.
Playing Noah is Russell Crowe's big gig.

Goddammit. Wasn't this was meant to be a disaster of a disaster flick about the original apocalypse? Yet another case of overstuffing what was a slight text into a long movie? Wasn't this going to be the watered-down result of a studio unnerved by the reaction of God-fearing American test audiences at what a visionary director had done to their favourite Old Testament bedtime story?

At the very least, couldn't we poke fun at our Rusty: So did those Rabbitohs of yours get to the ark on time, oh ancient master and commander?

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Even damning it with faint praise would have been fun - something about Noah appealing to New Zealand audiences because it's the best movie about boatbuilding and livestock export you are likely to see this year.

But as overwrought as Noah is, it's still exciting and fascinating. It manages to be part pre-historic disaster flick, part ecological parable, part contemplation of devotion to God, when religious faith turns to zealotry, death and love.

Maybe trying to make all those parts fit is its undoing - they don't quite. But it's certainly an experience to watch it try, especially with the crazy hands of director Darren Aronofsky on the tiller.

Noah does dazzling big screen spectacle and marries them to the stylistic flourishes of Aronofsky, who arrives here after the crossover success of his ballerina-madness film Black Swan. That one was after his last foray back to Genesis on the confounding The Fountain.

His latest is a movie that has epic, well, everything. But also swings to intimate scenes that feel they could be from a contemporary stage production.

It's a biblical movie that doesn't look anything like how biblical movies are supposed to look - the costumes and technology suggest a period more medieval than antediluvian. That said, its intricate interpretation is certainly inspiring enough to have some of us blowing the dust off the family Bible, Torah or Qu'ran to see just where Aronofsky got his ideas.

Though in a couple of scenes the answer to that might be: The Lord of the Rings.

There's a scene that strongly recalls the flooding of Isengard involving giant troll-like creatures - here called "the Watchers" and described as fallen angels and apparently based on the biblical Nephilim (and not The Hobbit's stone giants).

And as Noah's cave-dwelling ancient and withered grandpa Methuselah, Anthony Hopkins seems more Gollum than golem. He's just as scene-stealing too.

Filming against the volcanic landscapes of Iceland, this is certainly more Middle-earth than Middle East.

That's until the man upstairs turns on the sprinklers ... .

Of course, this is Crowe's big gig. He might have done a few mythic figures in his time and he does get to throw his weight around - mainly in confrontations with Ray Winstone's Tubal-cain, a king of the hordes whose wicked ways has brought on God's deluge.

Crowe's Noah isn't just an Old Testament Mad Max. His presence gives this unwieldly storm-battered film a solid anchor.

But doing what Noah's's divine visions tell him has to be done takes its toll and Crowe's performance certainly captures that of a man - not a fantasy figure - who has been through the psychological wringer.

By the end, so have we. After all we've seen the beginning of creation - Aronofsky's cosmic montage does the Big Bang but skips dinosaurs - and spent quite a long time holed up in a ship built to the giant coffin-like dimensions described in the Bible with all those animals.

It's okay though. Noah's wife Naameh (Connelly, in a solid performance) comes up with a clever way to avoid unfortunate shipboard Life of Pi incidents, the animal kingdom having arrived in a couple of impressive CGI stampedes.

Visually, this is certainly a big-screen film, whether those wicked hordes are laying siege to the ark or clambering to the last high ground as the waters rise.

Sonically, it's just as much of a head-trip, care of its cavernous sound design and a rampant soundtrack by Aronofksy's regular composer Clint Mansell.

But story-wise it hits some snags. Its final half hour, when the subplots involving Noah's adopted daughter Ila (Emma Watson - miscast) and an unwanted stowaway converge, all that melodrama has your hoping that dove would sure hurry up with its olive branch delivery.

But on the whole, Noah is a mad captivating trip. And yes, it's the best movie about boatbuilding and livestock export you are likely to see for a very long time.


Cast: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Hopkins
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Rating: M (violence)
Running time: 138 mins
Verdict: Crowe's epic a flawed wonder

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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