Directed By: Darren Aronofsky

Starring: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ray Winstone, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, Douglas Booth, and Anthony Hopkins

In my reviews of Lars von Trier's Nymphomaniac films, I wrote at length about how more socially conservative moviegoers bashed the film without having seen it.  In the case of Darren Aronofsky's Noah, the studio enabled this portion of the moviegoing public to take some shots at the movie long before it arrived in theaters.  Holding test screenings of alternate versions of the film with religious audiences, Paramount essentially gave this moviegoing bloc an opportunity to vent its grievances over a cut of the film that wasn't true to Aronofsky's vision.  Still, the film arriving in theaters this weekend is Aronofsky's bold interpretation of the timeless biblical tale, and it is indeed the first worthwhile live action blockbuster this year.

Adam and Eve had three sons — Cain, Abel, and Seth.  After Adam and Eve's fall from grace, the Bible says that Cain killed Abel.  As such, the descendants of the wicked Cain multiplied and turned their backs on the Creator.  Fewer in numbers, the descendants of Seth remained faithful to the Creator.  Meanwhile, fallen angels known as the Watchers were confined to walk the earth in stone form for defying the Creator and helping Adam and Eve after they ate the forbidden fruit.  For the next ten generations, Cain's descendants abused the earth and the Creator's creatures.  Seth's descendants have continued to remain faithful to the Creator.

Just as his father Lamech (Martin Csokas) is about to bestow the serpent's skin from Eden upon him, a young Noah (Dakota Goyo), a descendant of Seth, witnesses his father's murder at the hands of a descendant of Cain.  All grown up, Noah (Russell Crowe) lives an isolated life with his wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) away from the sinful descendants of Cain.  One night, he has a vision of the world being destroyed by water.  He sees this vision as a message from the Creator.  After consulting with his grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins) on the matter, Noah arrives at the conclusion that the storm to come can be survived.  With the help of his family and the Watchers, Noah builds a vessel that can withstand the raging floodwaters, the Ark.  As anticipated, the descendants of Cain want to get aboard the Ark when the rain comes.  Interestingly enough, their king Tubul-cain (Ray Winstone) is the very man who struck down Noah's father years ago.  Meanwhile, Noah's eldest son Shem (Douglas Booth) finds young love with his adopted sister Ila (Emma Watson), and another son Ham (Logan Lerman) grapples with the notion of life without love after the flood.

Darren Aronofsky isn't a name I would file under big budget directors.  His name is synonymous with more independent cinema like Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler, and Black Swan.  That being said, he gives us a far more artistic interpretation of the biblical tale of Noah's Ark than one would expect from Hollywood.  You can see it in the gritty cinematography befitting this stormy film.  You can hear it in the bombastic score that thunders away with the cleansing floodwaters from the Creator.  You can feel it as we're inundated with rapid panoramic photography across time and space to convey large plot developments.  Most importantly, you can sense Aronofsky's artistry as he navigates in and out of various motifs throughout the movie.  All in all, Noah brings the rain.  With Aronofsky at the helm, however, it brings a hell of a lot more too.

Noah makes it abundantly clear where Aronofsky sits with regard to the climate change "debate".  Frequently throughout the film, the characters emphasize that the storm that's brewing is a man-made crisis brought on by the fact that mankind abused the planet's wealth of resources.  With melting polar ice caps, polar vortexes, and one of the most brutal winters on record, that sounds all too familiar.  Another theme that Aronofsky tackles in Noah is manhood.  He juxtaposes two vastly different notions of manhood — one defined by protecting one's family and another defined by the ability to take another man's life.  I won't divulge plot details, but it's really interesting to watch as Aronofsky contrasts two opposing world views.  It perfectly complements the film's overall message about climate change and perhaps is symbolic of the key players in that very debate.

The actors all deliver solid performances.  As our titular character Noah, Russell Crowe does what he does best.  Known for his iconic turn as General Maximus Decimus Meridius in Gladiator, Crowe brings that same kind of nobility to his interpretation of this beloved biblical character.  At the same time, there's a darkness to his Noah that far exceeds the rosy version of the character about which we all learned at Sunday school.  If Crowe's Noah embodies the practical, palatable world view, Ray Winstone's Tubul-cain embodies the savage one.  A menacing, conniving presence on screen, Winstone proves to be a fitting nemesis for Crowe.  As Noah's on-screen wife Naameh, Jennifer Connelly gives a warm performance.  At times passive and at times combative, Connelly serves as the film's moral compass.  For his part as Methuselah, Anthony Hopkins gives an endearing performance.  He's just an old man who wants his berries before he dies.  Lastly, we have strong supporting performances from the younger cast members — Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, and Douglas Booth — as well.

Noah is the first blockbuster that's really caught my attention this year.  It took long enough.  Aronofsky's bold retelling of this biblical tale gets nothing but respect from me.  This is an epic big budget film with a message.  Noah gets a 0.03% rating.  Have some wine coolers with this one.