March 28, 2014 at 1:00 am

Tom Long

Review: 'Noah' is epic any way you look at it

Jennifer Connelly is powerful as wife to Biblical ark builder Noah, who is played magnificently by Russell Crowe. Each has an Academy Award. (Niko Tavernise / Paramount)

The fact that it can function as myth, religious belief, environmentalist allegory, apocalyptic nightmare or just good old-fashioned blockbuster entertainment is what makes “Noah” so interesting. The audience inevitably brings its own expectations and interpretations.

Some will likely cry blasphemy — this is a story built from the Bible, of course — while others scream nonsense, but most will surely be swept away by the sheer visual spectacle of the film. That director Darren Aronofsky (“Black Swan,” “The Wrestler”), co-writing with Ari Handel, is able to keep intellectual and religious concerns — faith vs. fanaticism, the nature of man, the value of innocence — central to these wild proceedings is impressive.

The end result is something of an art house spin on a classic religious epic. Aronofsky is somber and respectful, yet he’s also very much into the entertainment. How else do you explain giant disgraced angels made out of boulders?

But this is a new telling, obviously designed to raise the Big Issues of the Bible story while seasoning things with plenty of other dilemmas. And, for the most part, it works.

Russell Crowe stars as Noah, essentially the last decent healthy fellow on an Earth that has been overrun and ruined by man’s selfishness. He has a vision that God is planning on flooding the world, killing man and beast, so he packs up his family and heads for a mountain where his aged grandfather, Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins), lives, hoping for advice.

Along the way, he helps the eventual gene pool out mightily by rescuing a young girl, Ila (Emma Watson when grown), and then picks up some serious muscle by bonding with the giant boulder-angels. After a cup of Methuseleh’s apparently psychedelic tea, Noah realizes a hard rain’s a-gonna fall and he needs to get to ark-building.

Years pass and, after being given a miraculous forest, Noah is finishing the ark. His son, Shem (Douglas Booth), has hooked up with Ila while his next son, Ham (Logan Lerman), is seriously wondering who he’s going to date once the ark is at sea. Luckily, his youngest boy, Japheth (Leo McHugh Carroll), isn’t worried about dating yet. Looking on patiently and faithfully is Noah’s wife, Naameh (Jennifer Connelly).

At which point the beasts arrive — flying, slithering, marching two-by-two — and that’s pretty cool. But then the real beasts arrive — men, led by the king, Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone) — and they want a ride to safety on the ark as well. Good thing Noah has his giant boulder-angel buddies to stave them off.

Then it starts to rain. And things don’t really go fabulously well for anyone, Noah included.

Aronofsky easily could have left the ark bobbing about on water with Noah looking heavenward, but instead he turns the film’s final third into a harrowing study of fanaticism and religious fervor skirting madness as Noah decides mankind has met its expiration date.

The parallels between man’s ruination of the earth then and now are impossible to miss, and the question of whether we are this world’s most truly dangerous invasive species hovers over everything here. Not your typical inspirational religious message, sure, but effective.

Crowe is appropriately magnificent as Noah, never more so than when he’s coming undone. Connelly has too little to do, but when she lets go, she hits hard. But the real shock here is Watson, no longer Harry Potter’s friend who’s a girl, but surprisingly intense.

This is not your grandmother’s “Noah,” but it is a powerful film of huge scope; and if the giant boulder-angels are a bit much, the movie’s serious intent and ability to wrestle with complex questions more than compensate.

“Noah” is epic.

'Noah'

GRADE: B+

Rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images and brief suggestive content

Running time: 138 minutes

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