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Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Noah (2014)

Noah (2014).

[Trigger warning for brief mentions of sexual violence.]

Oh god, I didn't want to review this film. I thought it'd be terrible. I procrastinated from it by doing Kamen Rider Fashion Catwalk instead. I nearly decided to watch the Showa vs Heisei film to get out of doing it this time. It's just, I was really sure it was going to be irredeemably awful, okay?

Well, guess what. I was right.

Noah (2014) is a retelling of that beloved Bible story where God drowns everybody on the planet except one dude, his family, and some animals, who are allowed to weather it in a gigantic boat. A family that, incidentally, includes Ham, who later purportedly does something awful to Noah, although Talmudic and Biblical scholars are unclear on whether it's castration, rape, or sleeping with his wife. What a charming, righteous family. 

Such lovely people.

So naturally, a narrative of a mythical mass murder from the perspective of an accessory to it was the perfect fare for a two hour Hollywood feature film.

Let's be clear early on in this review: There are no good Biblical films that aren't musicals. I know, I know, it seems harsh, but I don't make the rules. It's just one of those absolute truths. One big reason for this is that unless you have people bursting into song as a distraction tactic, Bible characters very quickly start looking like amoral monsters, and Noah is no exception.

Bless its heart, the film does its absolute best to cast God – or the Creator, as he is always referred to in the film for some bizarre reason (if you're doing a Biblical film, you may as well just call him God) – in a positive light, by way of setting up that the 'descendants of Cain' have formed a literal evil empire spanning the planet. We never really see it - In one of many hamfisted references to modern events, their voracious appetites have left this empire all but collapsed, with the strong implication that Evil Ray Winstone's roving band of welding mask wearing bandits is the only coherent remainder of this empire – but we get a lovely scene at the beginning showing it spreading across the globe. Very late 80s.

Bizarrely, and equally hamfistedly, it does the exact opposite for Noah, making him obsessed with the complete destruction of humanity about a third of the way through the film – an obsession that later culminates in a scene that could easily have been ripped out of a slasher flick, in which Noah storms after Emma Watson with a knife and corners her against the side of the ark so that he can murder two babies. I do understand why this happened: God knows, there needed to be some conflict in this film, and god knows it's sorely lacking at times. But it seems like such a strange choice, especially since Noah's change of heart comes very sharply, after a sequence where he witnesses a mob committing cannibalism – a sequence which may have even been a dream, as it involves meteorites and men's faces transforming into that of demons.

Noah spends most of this film alarmed, enraged, or both.

Hamfisted is, in general, the best way to describe this film. Sometimes it strains at subtlety, but it always fails, and instead attempts to hammer its messages (which mostly seem to be 'be a vegan, man. Also, oil') in like an angry carpenter with a troublesome nail. Bizarre would be another, both in regards to the odd way the plot never seems entirely sure where it's going (Anthony Hopkins' slightly confused, doddering Methuselah, mumbling things about how his father said the world would burn, is like a living metaphor for this film), and in the strange way it treats time.

Heh. Baldness. Don't be killing me with a bear now, God.

Emma Watson remarked, at one point, that the film's maker seemed to be going for something almost timeless: It could be in the far future or the far past, and you shouldn't be able to tell. Well, he certainly achieved that, didn't he. The wasteland is unrecognisable as any particular place, and the characters are dressed in a generically past-y style, but Evil Ray Winstone and his army use corrugated iron as shields, welding masks as helmets, and guns, and are mentioned to have been a post-industrial nation. Not to mention that in Noah's story showing at extreme speed the history of the universe from the Big Bang through to the present – a sequence which enraged several Young Earth creationists as it shows evolution, but which I thought was one of the only really effective parts of the film – you can recognisably see both Romans and modern soldiers.

The intention seems to be to push a 'this could be us if we don't mend our ways' idea, but it falls completely flat, as characters are constantly talking about how they're the eighth generation since Adam and Eve, and because the film actually sets up a very clear timeline for how this industrial society was created: And it involves benevolent four-armed rock angels, so it's pretty unlikely to be us.

(Not to mention, I don't live in fear of a mythical sky father drowning me. I just don't.)

Getting hit with a rock, however ...

In general, I'm – really struggling to find anything good to say about this film. It has an all-star cast, including Anthony Hopkins, Russell Crowe, Emma Watson and Jennifer Connelly, but the first three of those appear to have left their acting talents elsewhere. Crowe either bellows his lines tonelessly or mumbles them, I'm not entirely convinced Watson read the script before arriving on set, and Hopkins constantly seems like he'd rather be somewhere else and would really like them to hurry up and pay him. Connelly actually produces the best performance of the entire cast, but she can't carry an entire film by herself.

The less said about Douglas Booth and Logan Lerman, playing two of Noah's three sons, the better. Believe me, it's best just to – pretend neither of them are there. 

Forgetting they're there will be easier than you think.

It's not even really visually striking, with the exception of a few scenes here and there. For a film with a one-hundred-and-twenty-five million pound budget, it could have probably used a much smaller budget, or at least somebody competent putting it to good use. The CGI used for the Watchers is incredibly awkward, to the point of shattering your disbelief every time it's on screen, and when the film tries to be arty, such as showing a vein of water running through the wasteland and then a pair of doves drinking from it and flying to the ark, it just looks incredibly cheap.

Forgettable soundtrack, extremely odd pacing, utterly unremarkable set and costume design that seems to try and strain at something dramatic and meaningful but fails completely. Maybe I'm biased, but this really seems to me like a film with absolutely no redeeming qualities.

I'm really looking forward to the sequel, though, when they realise that eight people, most of whom are related to each other, aren't enough to repopulate the human race and that they'll probably die out within five or six generations.

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