Noah: The Movie Review (Mild Spoilers)

I used to think the worst casting of all time was Jack Nicholson in The Shining.  The man looked like he was about to put an axe through your head the second he walked through the door, so it’s not like there was anywhere for him to go.  But at least the rest of The Shining was successful, so the film worked around him.

Noah, however, collapses at the casting of Russell Crowe.

The central problem with Noah is that its main character ark (see what I did there?) is at odds with what Russell Crowe is known for delivering.  If you’re looking to deliver a vegan soft-hearted guy who doesn’t want to kill anyone, Fighty McRussell is not your first choice.

And yet that’s what the film’s heart is, ostensibly, about: literally the best man in the world, someone shocked by the idea of eating animals, a man who, when confronted with the evils of the world, falls into despair and honestly believes that God wants to use him to save the animals and then let mankind die off.  The journey of Noah is from good man to despair, a man who loses faith in his own children and comes to see them as sinful, worthy of being scourged.  After all, he’s traumatized by seeing his Creator kill off every other living being in the world – given that mankind was what destroyed the Garden of Eden, is it that big a leap to believe that God wants his family to be the last of humanity?

But the film doesn’t back that.  In the opening segment, we see three men perpetrating the shocking crime of killing an animal – for meat!  And they threaten to kill Noah.  And Noah becomes the Gladiator, slaughtering them with major karate moves without a second thought – the sort of glowering destruction that Russell Crowe is known for.

Problem is, that’s not what the movie actually wants to do.  Russell Crowe-as-Noah kills them, shrugs, and moves on… which implies he’s killed a lot of men, and no longer cares.  But since the whole point of this movie is Noah’s great love of mankind rubbing up against his hatred of man’s sins, turning this pivotal moment into a generic action sequence is precisely wrong.

My preference would be to have Noah not be a knife-slingin’ badass, the kind of man who kills awkwardly because he’s reluctant to do so – and if he has to be good at it, let it be that terrified Jackie Chan style of fighting where it’s mostly defensive and Jackie looks like he’d rather be somewhere else the entire time.  But even if that’s not the case, if the goal is to show how Noah the compassionate man comes to despair, we need to see that reaction afterwards – the pain of him knowing that oh no, I’ve done this again, the terror of realizing that he too has once again been backed into the ways of Cain.

But nope.  We get a shrug, and Russell Crowe stoically walks away to feel bad for the animal.  And that defangs so much of the rest of the movie, it’s not even funny.

For we know plot of this movie – he’s going to build an ark, save the animals, float a while, bump into land, see the dove.  So all that’s left along this journey is to provide us with surprising and fitting character moments.  And having Russell Crowe, who swallows all of his emotions, be the vehicle to deliver a tale about curdled faith followed by redemption, is a wrong choice.  We don’t see him struggle with his faith so much as rage against it, and “rage” is probably not the ideal choice.

I’m not sure who I would have chosen to deliver this Biblical epic – perhaps Viggo Mortenson? – but Crowe’s ill-matched.

Now, what I find fascinating about the film is that it’s criticized for elements I’d actually like to have seen more of.  People complain about the half-science fiction elements of the world, with crumpled angels walking about and remnants of technology buried in the desert, but the Bible itself says the world was stranger in those days.  This is a world shortly after the Fall, where the echoes of God could still be heard, where men lived a thousand years and routinely bred with angels.  It was a different time – and while some are put off by Aronofsky’s interpretation, I wanted more weirdness, more of a reminder that the Earth has moved on. I wanted to see more of these great cities that drowned, instead of keeping the action to a small and distant forest.  So much of the movie is just Noah in a boxy ark, with sleeping animals almost invisible in the firelight, and those shots could have been filmed in almost any warehouse.

You can complain about the weirdness of the murder angels, but seriously, read the Bible.  There’s a lot weirder stuff in there, mang.

And like all of Aronofsky’s films, it’s just flat-out beautiful.  He has an eye for composition, and it’s pretty… but unfortunately, yanking the tension from the Noah plotline leaves the rest of the movie feeling turgid.  Look beyond the acting and to the words of the script and you can see that place where there was supposed to be a crackle-and-hum of Noah, the best man in the world, being forced up against unthinkable amounts of sin and death.  What psychological damage would that grind into even the best man?  Is Noah, who literally holds the fate of the Earth in his hands, stable enough to rest such a burden on?

The answer we get from Crowe is, Yeah, I’m tough.  Which is an excellent answer in many movies.  Just not this one.

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