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Stars: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, Douglas Booth, Nick Nolte, Mark Margolis, Kevin Durand, Leo McHugh Carroll, Marton Csokas, Finn Wittrock, Madison Davenport, Gavin Casalegno, Nolan Gross, Skylar Burke, Dakota Goyo, Frank Langella

Director: Darren Aronofsky

You can safely ignore almost everything about Noah you ever read in the Bible or heard at school.

This overlong, overblown and overindulged ‘Biblical’ epic may reference things you have heard about but in essence it is essentially the gospel according to director/co-writer/co-producer Darren Aronofsky.

His unique take on the scriptures includes ‘The Watchers’ – giant fiery-eyed shambling stone creatures that once were fallen angels – that lay waste to Mankind before, improbably, helping Noah build his Ark and fight off the forces of evil, an Ark that resembles a giant wooden container and memorably ludicrous characters, my favourite being a hammy, artificially aged tea-drinking (so British!) Anthony Hopkins who, overplaying Methuselah as a character from a standard soap opera, speaks with a cut-glass English accent and serves Noah a cup of tea apparently laced with something that causes him to suffer a terrifying preview nightmare of the Flood.

“In the beginning, there was nothing”, intones the narrator.

By the end (a long, long near two-and-a-half hours) Aronofsky has served up “the first cinematic portrait of Noah as an imperfect man whose awe-inspiring task grapples with the worst of humanity while affirming our faith in its best”.

I must have missed something as my mind and behind became more and more numb watching Aronofsky and his co-writer Ari Handel’s auteuristic (and that is meant as high praise, of course) bring their screenplay to self-serving celluloid life.

Here Noah, impressively played by Russell Crowe, is a depicted as a tyrant who is given to coming down harder and harder on his family before his less-than-convincing climactic change of heart when, instead of killing his grandchildren as he intends, he repents and lets them live.

And, for a man who, according to the Bible, was 600 years old at the time of the Ark, Crowe looks remarkably well preserved – only some grey in his beard and hair suggests centuries have passed since he was born.

Jennifer Connelly does her best and emerges almost unharmed from the characterisation supplied to her by the script as Noah’s wife, while Emma Watson is memorably inadequate as the mother of Noah’s grandchildren and should perhaps consider asking J K Rowling to save her career by coming up with another Harry Potter mishmash.

Comedy is patently not a basic ingredient of a po-faced saga that kicks off with Eve, the Apple and a colourful serpent that resembles an escapee from a Disney cartoon.

Fortunately (but probably accidentally rather than deliberately), Aronofsky provides an initially welcome but increasingly wearisome comic element by casting Ray Winstone as Cain – complete with his routine Cockney accent, which presumably was considered ideal for a Biblical world in which England, let alone London, probably didn’t exist.

Winstone delivers his over-familiar hard man act as usual, this time decorated with a straggly white beard and all the subtlety of a hippopotamus trapped in a telephone booth playing the legendary Biblical brother-killer Tubal Cain. (And no, he wasn’t Abel to pull it off).

When Crowe asked, ‘Where’s Ham”, I muttered “Winstone” under my breath.
Please accept my apologies.

Still, Winstone did solve one long-time mystery. He stows away on the Ark planning to kill Noah. There he’s seen eating meat – so that’s what happened to the two unicorns!

Where Noah does score is visually, with the magnificent special effects sequences that punctuate the drama, most notably in bringing to life such unforgettable sights as a tsunami of birds and creatures entering the Ark and an Oscar-worthy sequence of the animal-filled interior.

The construction of the Ark, with the loony giant stone creatures improbably helping out and the subsequent attack on the craft by Winstone and his screen-filling hordes falling victim to the ‘Watchers’ are also Oscar-worthy, as is the Flood itself.

(Which makes me wonder why Aronofsky didn’t choose to film Noah in widescreen in order to capitalize on his CGI triumphs).

Incidentally, Aronofsky’s dramatic timeline makes no sense either. The Bible claims the Ark’s voyage took 40 days and 40 nights.

That makes the plotline of Watson becoming pregnant and finally giving birth (with jarring screams that were far and away the most convincing part of her performance) more than just a tad confusing since, after my experience as a medical student and subsequently a father, I could swear that the process actually takes 9 months.

Still, that’s Show Business!

Alan Frank

USA 2014. UK Distributor: Paramount. Colour.
138 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 2, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 31 Mar 2014