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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 



Review of the film Noah


Whenever a film is attempted on a religious/mythological/historical premise, there are bound to be objections to its content, or form, or both. Even fiction and biographical movies face this hostility, and have learnt to live with it. Orthodox believers might find it difficult to watch Noah objectively and avoid comparison to the holy text. Liberals and other film-buffs are more likely to detach themselves (or not to attach themselves in the first place) from the words of the Book, and react to the film as a film. One important theory in all art is that it can never be fully objective. Every time you paint, write or film, you are taking a stand. But while assessing a film, such apparent stands cannot be the basis for arriving at a judgment.

Darren Aronofsky's Noah is nothing like the John Huston of the Bible (1965). He is grim, has complex and disturbing dreams, fights, and kills with ferocity. We see his after in one brief scene and his grand-father, the other favourite antediluvian patriarch Methuselah, appears time and again as a berry-craving recluse. An important character is Tubal-Cain, descendent of Abel’s murderer Cain and ruler of large parts of barren lands, out to challenge and poison his son’s ears against him. Noah also features six-armed, petrified, fallen angels, called the Watchers/Nephilim, who were made of light and flame but were turned to stone when they came to the rescue of man, against the wishes of the Creator (in the film, all references to God are as ‘Creator’). There were many of them, only six survived.

Noah is mainly about the conflict within a family that is destined to be the last surviving unit on earth, at least till when Creator relents: Noah, wife Naameh, eldest son Shem, son Ham and son Japeth. One member is added as they find a badly-wounded girl Ila, who they nurse and adopt, and who becomes attached to Shem. Ham wants to bring aboard another girl, as his woman, who he finds in a large ditch, as the only survivor of a massacre, but Noah is able to rescue only Ham from Tubal-Cain’s mad army. The Ark is built from wood obtained from a forest that emerges miraculously from the earth, with the Watchers helping middle-aged Noah in his task. As the storm rages, all is set to bolt the Ark’s door and shut off the world, when Tubal-Cain’s hordes make their final assault, hoping to get into the safe haven and escape extinction.

Russell Crowe is his usual self, brooding more than ever. Gravel-voiced and single-minded, he delivers a competent performance. The casting seems too predictable. Interestingly, he was the third choice for the role. Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind) is more convincing and her emotional burst towards the end strikes a chord. Another piece of predictable casting is Anthony Hopkins as Methuselah. One would have expected a long beard, but there is none. Yes, his trade-mark faraway look and a touch of humour go well with the part. Douglas Booth as Shem and Logan Lerman as Ham acquit themselves well. Leo Carroll has little to do as Japeth. Ray Winstone scores as the forsaken Tubal-Cain, who has to come to grips with the fact that the Creator has chosen Noah over him, and left him to fend for himself. Nick Nolte and Frank Langella lend their voices to the Watchers, sounding just like you would expect giant stones to sound, if they spoke.

Harry Potter’s Hermione, Paris-born British actress Emma Watson, who will turn 24 in a few days, as Ila, continues to look the teenager she did in the magic series. She came in when Dakota Fanning was not available. Good luck for her. Noah will do her credit. Asked about her views on the liberties taken with the original story, she told Associated Press, “If we had gone with exactly the original story, Noah doesn't say anything until he steps off the Ark. You would have been watching a silent film. None of the women are really spoken about in the biblical story. There wouldn't have been any women in it. He (Aronofsky) had to adapt it for the screen.”

Ari Handel co-wrote the film, along with Aronofsky. Considering there was so little material to start with, the writers have done a creditable job. Handel is also the Executive Producer of Noah and Aronofsky’s Black Swan. Handel was the Associate Producer of The Wrestler and The Fountain (shot 2002-03), the latter being based on his story. The Fountain saw release almost four years after completion, and had Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz in place of Brad Pitt (who walked out a few days into filming) and Cate Blanchett. It was panned by the critics and a turkey at the turnstiles. Black Swan, on the other hand, has had both critics and patrons swooning—Oscar for Natalie Portman, $329 mn worldwide.

Some of director Aronofsky’s touches are strikingly simple, like the way the camera follows the gaze of a character who looks back to find corpses strewn around behind him,  and the others, mainly the genesis of the world in seven days, a barrage of technical wizardry. There are times when the film drags, in the first half, though this is compensated with the pace picking up later. The film is not too long, as many Biblical transpositions on the giant screen tend to be.\

The Ark was built on a state park in Oyster Bay, Long Island, and the technical aspects of the film are of a high calibre.

Rating: ***


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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