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‘Noah’ (Darren Aronofsky, 2014)

I’m liable to have no small amount of goodwill toward any filmmaker with a striking vision across their body of work, not least a director as deranged and visually inventive as Darren Aronofsky. His last release, the ever-divisive Black Swan, didn’t so much teeter on the ropes of melodrama, but leapt face-first into the ring in the manner, perhaps, of Mickey Rourke’s washed-up fighter Randy ‘The Ram’ in its more naturalistic sister-film The Wrestler

Noah finds a middle ground between these two approaches, as substantial and believable as the latter whilst offering more of the manic, creative energy of the wonderfully nutty Swan. Aronofsky grounds his story in fantastical myth, a pre-history of the Earth where the colour schemes of the sky to the creatures that stalk the forests have as much in common with Avatar as they do any do any realistic account of early Man. The world is a polluted, industrial, carnivorous mess with the cleansing power of the flood destined to promise electric cars, renewable energy and radical, Aronofsky-strength veganism.

Even divorced from common interpretations (though I can’t pretend to much theological literacy), Aronofsky finds great thematic weight in this story, not just in his environmental arguments but in the complexity of the decisions placed in the hands of these people, the challenging (but never deliberately provocative) moral choices that present themselves, and the descent into fanaticism on part of Russell Crowe’s lead. This is Crowe’s first truly great central role since Master and Commander, shaking off a decade of patchiness to tear into a proper, meaty old leading mans part with actual screen presence and a whole world of bottled emotion inside.

This is important work for both actor and director; an ambitious project that takes a fascinating perspective on a universal story, showing its continued relevance through the most creative of adaptations. The scale makes me pine for Aronofsky’s abandoned big-budget production of The Fountain that died weeks before shooting a decade ago. I wouldn’t trade the scaled-back 2006 version for the world, but the vastness of Noah brings back memories of that cursed effort and hopes that it’s not too long before he gifts us with a seventh feature.

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