After experiencing visions of an apocalyptic deluge, Noah (Russell Crowe) takes extreme, ark-building measures to protect his family from the coming flood. However, his survival strategy could come to naught if his nemesis Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone) gets his way. Black Swan director Darren Aronofsky pulls out all the stops - from the barking to the brilliant - to offers up a genuine spectacle of biblical proportions. It's whatever floats your boat... and more.
Having flirted with big-budget filmmaking on numerous occasions (he was tipped to helm The Wolverine, RoboCop and a Superman reboot at one time or another), Darren Aronofsky, master of surreal filmmaking, finally goes big as he dips his toe in the water of the Old Testament's most famous story.
For those who didn't attend Sunday school nor read the book of Genesis, Noah is a descendant of Seth, the son of Adam and brother of the murderous Cain.
He lives in a tent with his wife (an earnest and convincing Connelly) and their two sons, Ham (Lerman) and Shem (Booth), trying to eke out a life from the fauna around them, while avoiding the attentions of the world's largely degenerate population.
With those people becoming increasingly hostile, Noah experiences a sequence of typically-Aronofsky dreams, loaded with flitting imagery, subtle messages and snakes. 'The Creator' (the word God is notable by its absence) is talking to Noah, if only the family man could figure out what he's being told.
So Noah heads to see his oddball mountain-dwelling grandfather (Anthony Hopkins, hammy as hell as a kind of biblical Obi-Wan Kenobi), picking up an injured girl (she'll grow up to be Emma Watson, a future lover for one of Noah's sons) and coming under the scrutiny of giant rock monsters along the way.
That's right. Giant rock monsters. Although the 'rockies' are fallen angels trapped in ghastly rock form and voiced by Nick Nolte, Aronofsky has taken some major liberties with the original story.
Once in communion with his grandfather, Noah realises the truth; he needs to build something. And it better be big.
Animals snaking through the forest to enter the ark, a pair of doves, the questioning of faith; all the beats are there, in a darker, grubbier, crustier way than you might remember them.
Meanwhile, conflict arrives in the form of Noah's fellow man, led by self-appointed king Tubal-Cain (Winstone), whose initial refusal to accept 'the creator's' will is soon replaced by a desire to board the giant vessel at the expense of the animals and, of course, the family Noah.
Aronofsky's direction is two-parts Emmerich, one-part Malick. Screen-busting effects depicting the end of the world, interspersed with his trademark stop-motion, time-lapsed visuals, crackling soundtrack and a Clint Mansell score that makes Hans Zimmer's Inception sound like a schoolgirl rendition of Cliff Richard's Summer Holiday.
But for all the startling visuals, this is just as much an actor's affair. Crowe starts off in typical gravitas mode, but his character progression is well-worked, as the once-certain Noah struggles to deal with his intepretation of the messages he receives. It's a nice twist for the actor to deal with; playing a man who ultimately pushes for worldwide genocide, fighting a bad guy whose main point is that man should be given a shot at redemption.
Indeed, Ray Winstone's villaionous Tubal-Cain is fleetingly terrifying. But it's almost impossible, particularly when his accent lapses back to the East End, not to imagine his face popping up in the corner of the screen to offer the latest odds on Noah's chances, resulting in a desire for someone to "have a bang" on his irritating face. Something that takes far too long to occur.
Elsewhere, Logan Lerman puts in a decent turn as Ham, Noah's conflicted son, while Emma Watson keeps raising the bar on crying scenes, reaching a level of bawling so high it's inaudible to the human ear.
The director has certainly found the balance between story, character and special effects (although when the rock mosters take shape, it's impossible not to recall the Ents from Peter Jackson's Two Towers, given the similarity in animation, purpose and subtext), but the general enjoyment one will take will largely depend on how seriously one takes the story.
Christians may be a little vexed at the mild decoupling of Christianity from the legendary moralistic story, while non-believers are bound to find the religious overtones a distraction from the mayhem.
It's epic filmmaking that flits between surreal class and utter lunacy, and even though it's occasionally ridiculous and you know how it ends, it's ultimately worth the ride.