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As someone faced with over a decade of religious upbringing and a whole lot of Catholic school, the potential for interesting narratives based on Bible tales always excites me. There’s nothing as frustrating as hearing the same old story a thousand times when dealing with a piece of literature as open to endless interpretation as the Bible. With a boatload of inspired material impossible to find within the pages of that holy book, Darren Aronofsky does a great job at handling a narrative as tired as that of Noah’s Ark. By balancing the epic nature of Noah with the personal, gritty style he’s known for, Aronofsky delivers a surprisingly solid work.

By no means would it be exaggerating to call Aronofsky and Ari Handel’s adaptation a loose one, as from the very introduction to the film the differences are glaring. Noah’s prophetic dreams telling him the world’s about to be drowned and he must save two of each animal for future reproduction is all the same, it’s the events that surround this that make for the new material. The Bible is no stranger to fallen angels, but here they are given the name “Watchers” and tasked with helping Noah in his building of the Ark. As embarrassing as the CGI stone monsters are to look at in the arguably realistic scenario, they help to enhance the notion of war between humanity and the heavens (including their prophet and company). At the very least it evens the playing field, as one can only imagine how easily Noah and his family would be overtaken by an entire army of pissed off humans, led by Ray Winstone in his best Mickey Rourke make-up, told they’re about to drown.

It’s impossible to deny that these big action sequences related to the war subplot don’t add to the rather epic nature of the film. In the grand scheme of things though, it almost pales in comparison to that of the personal lives of Noah and the humans he surrounds himself with. As complementary as the action is to everything else in Noah, Aronofsky flourishes in human situations where desperation is a driving force; his entire career is proof of that. Scenes between Noah, his wife Naameh, and his son’s wife Ila, provide the film with almost all of its weight through a dark narrative involving impending doom and the magic of conception. While they’re still essentially reduced to motherly roles, the fact that he actually gives voices to Biblical women who barely have a moment’s presence in the literature is something to appreciate. If anything, both of its lead women are just as compelling to watch as Noah himself — mostly due to Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, and Emma Waston all delivering top-notch performances — and they definitely prove to be far better scripted than every male character the film isn’t named after.

Noah is the proof that great ambition does sometimes pay off, especially when it sounds like a project bound for failure. Of course, some of that ambition results in metaphors as embarrassingly unsubtle as the whole of Requiem for a Dream and comical scenarios that should never be discussed (i.e. Anthony Hopkins and berries). The rest, though, provides some seriously gorgeous stuff; a creation sequence proving to be the most impressive in an already stylistically graceful film. By no means is it an immaculate work, covered in mud and blood from head to toe, but Darren Aronofsky’s certainly proved that his blend of action-adventure and family drama makes for one heck of a Biblical epic.

Noah is currently available on Blu-ray/DVD and for rental or purchase on Amazon Instant Video.

Directed by Darren Aronofsky; written by Darren Aronofsky & Ari Handel; starring Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, and Douglas Booth; 139 minutes.