Film review: Noah (12A)

Russell Crowe in a scene from Noah. Picture: AP
Russell Crowe in a scene from Noah. Picture: AP
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THERE’S something of the Old Testament about Russell Crowe: wrathful, certainly. Also quite big and bulky. So maybe it was only a matter of time before someone lassoed him into a biblical epic.

Noah (12A)

Director: Darren Aronofsky

Running time: 137 minutes

Star rating: * * *

But be warned: this is not your child’s version of Noah, with a cute two-by-two procession of giraffes and elephants. Indeed, the animals get even less screen time than Mrs Noah (Jennifer Connelly), and instead of Crowe perhaps chasing chickens, Rocky-style, as part of his mission to collect examples of each and every species, all the animals obediently turn up just before casting-off in the manner of bored passengers awaiting a Cal Mac ferry.

Noah is a long-cherished ambition of director Darren Aronofsky, and the success of Black Swan finally persuaded Paramount to let him build his ark. You can see what connects Noah to other Aronofsky films. Throughout his movie-making career, he’s always been interested in driven, obsessive characters, from Sean Gullette trying to calculate the meaning of life as a mathematical problem in Pi to Natalie Portman trying to perfect her Swan Lake in Black Swan.

Changes that may startle fans of the original Genesis verses include Noah’s ark-building assistants the Watchers, giant, rock encrusted fallen angels apparently inspired by the Nephilim of the Old Testament. On screen, they look like off-cuts from Lord Of The Rings and sound like Nick Nolte or Frank Langella. Together they build a seagoing tub so ugly it would make the craftsmen of John Brown’s shipyard weep.

There’s also a villain, called Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone), who is a descendant of the Bible’s first murderer, and whose family have looted the earth and behaved in decadent ways that have brought down the wrath of God. Tubal-cain is also a rather early fan of Jeremy Bentham, believing that man makes his own fate. This, and his rough, meat-eating ways make him rather alluring to Noah’s son Ham (Logan Lerman), who is already brooding because his brother Shem (Douglas Booth) has a girlfriend (Emma Watson) and he doesn’t.

Some of Aronofsky’s flourishes are neat solutions to the difficulty of turning a short biblical story into a 137-minute epic, or demonstrate his thoughtful intelligence at work – an opening sequence that reconciles creationism and Darwinism is both stunning and smart.

Yet the film’s stentorian environmental message feels clumsy, and other embellishments suggest a nervousness about entertaining a restless, action-loving audience who have paid to see Crowe lamp someone before that dove is unleashed. The real problem, of course, is to avoid estranging the faithful; already the film has been banned in Indonesia, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates because portraying a prophet onscreen might offend Muslim viewers.

Still, Noah manages the miracle of Crowe shouting at the heavens without looking absurd, not to mention the miracle of bringing the Bible movie back to life, and making it watchable and contemplative. Mind you, if this opens the floodgates to another Evan Almighty, there will be hell to pay.

Twitter @SiobhanSynnot

• General release from Friday

OTHER FILM RELEASES

The Borderlands (15)

Star rating: * * * *

Lo-fi British horror in which a Catholic priest (Gordon Kennedy) and his electronics wizard sidekick (Robin Hill) investigate unexplained shakes and scratches in a small country church. Much of this may sound familiar, but The Borderlands’ crafty virtue is that it understands that hand-held camerawork and boo scares aren’t an excuse to neglect plot, dialogue or characters.

Selected release from Friday

Divergent (12A)

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Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton (15)

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Jeff Broadway’s 2013 documentary about hip hop label Stones Throw and the critically acclaimed acts on its books. Soundtracked by Madlib, this is aimed at the faithful rather than casual music fans, but the evangelical fervour shines through.

Screenings and live events at Glasgow Film Theatre, tomorrow and Cameo, Edinburgh on Wednesday

Broadway’s Romeo & Juliet (PG)

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The Unknown Known (12A)

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Cameo, Edinburgh, Tuesday