Directed by: Shane Black
Starring: Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Kim Basinger
UK release: May 2016
Projects which bring biblical stories to the big screen are often shrouded in controversy and Noah has expectedly followed suit. Is there room for creative licence when adapting chapters from the Old Testament? Is it possible to please everyone or are you guaranteed to cause offence? Luckily, the director at the helm is visionary risk-taker Darren Aronofsky, best known for his surreal style in films such as Black Swan and Requiem for a Dream. He makes this epic far more than a dull lesson in religious education but his auteurism is marred by the boundaries of the subject matter. In case anyone is unfamiliar with the story, Noah (Russell Crowe) is a strong family man who receives a spiritual message from God, or The Creator as he is referred to throughout the film. He assumes the responsibility to build an ark to survive an almighty flood, preserve the planet and save it from human destruction. The slant on this version is that there is a villain of the piece Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone), who wants to kill Noah and have the ark for himself and his army.
As well as the obvious religious themes, Aronofsky takes a purist look at nature and evolution of the world we live in. From flower picking to meat-eating, any acts deemed harmful to the upkeep of the environment are frowned upon, and sequences which demonstrate growth and development are gloriously presented. In particular, a time-lapse scene in which Noah tells how the Earth was created in seven days is astounding. Teamed with his regular sound expert Clint Mansell, the dark atmosphere and undertones of the film are recognisably Aronofsky-esque, and this is most evident when tackling the psychological torment of the lead. Dreams and imaginings haunt Noah throughout and weigh him down with his incredible burden, skewing his morals and principles with Edenic imagery. The vivid visual elements to the core character arc and the inclusion of stony angels known as The Watchers add fantasy to the plot, and although they had positive affect in terms of the enjoyment of the film, the inventiveness is problematic alongside the original material.
The performances are fine across the board, and the film boasts a star studded cast including Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Hopkins and Emma Watson. Following a questionable run of form, Russell Crowe exerts a powerful screen presence, commanding scenes as he does but it is far from his best turn. He does find his singing voice again, but only briefly. Winstone combats Crowe’s machismo with his trademark swagger, accents from around the globe in full flow. Confrontations between the loggerheads are at times laughable, like two codgers competing for a bus shelter to stay out of the rain, but they seem to be enjoying themselves at least. Whilst the egos clash at the forefront, the female characters simmer away quietly. Initially overshadowed, Connelly and Watson as Noah’s wife and adopted daughter impress more as the plot progresses and come into their own in the final act when the narrative switches focus to family drama territory.
Despite the difficulties faced, Noah achieves what it sets out do to and rejuvenates an old tale to give it cinematic worth on a sizeable scale. The special effects are carried off expertly and the flood is definitely worth seeing on the big screen. The pacing issues and lack of a massive acting performance hold the film back as much as the biblical boundaries but it is bold, brave cinema on a technical level. Darren Aronofsky has in the past tossed away the filmmaking rulebook but here his besmirchment of The Holy Book has garnered some criticism. This to me only highlights his singular vision and passion towards the art form in which he has impressed in again and again.
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‘Broken City’ is a political crime thriller, starring Mark Wahlberg as ex-cop turned private investigator Billy Taggart and Russell Crowe as Mayor Nicholas Hostetler. When Taggart is in court, set to be imprisoned for the murder of a New York thug, the Mayor pulls some strings to get him off the hook. Seven years later, with an election looming, it’s payback time when the Mayor asks Taggart to track his wife as he suspects she is having an affair. This leads to more than we as an audience, and Taggart, are first led to believe, uncovering secrets and embroiling Taggart in Hostetler’s murky feuds, both politically and on a personal level.
Nothing about ‘Broken City’ is original, each character flat and one dimensional, picked from the bargain bucket of film stereotypes and thrown together in a tired plot; the beaten down ex-cop with an alcohol problem, the crooked Mayor, more gangster than politician and the mysterious hard faced wife with a hidden vulnerability. However worn out the concept is, if you see past the ‘movie plot generator’ used to build it, it is a very enjoyable watch and I can think of worse ways to pass a couple of hours. It can be pleasant having the opportunity to sit back and take in the swooping location shots and admire the slick visuals, knowing the narrative will play out steadily where you expect it to, with no nasty surprises.
I think even the stars suspect the predictable nature of the film, and seem to put that to one side and enjoy themselves which is great to see. Mark Wahlberg, who in recent roles seems to be either underplaying the super serious type, see The Fighter, or overplaying the goofball, see Ted, and here he manages to combine the two, portraying the tough guy with a sense of humour, and he is genuinely funny this time. Russell Crowe also seems very much at ease with his part, spouting lines with venom and giving dirty looks, behind the ‘good guy’ persona he flaunts to his voters. The script is fair, dialogue sub-standard but lifted by the performances. Kyle Chandler pops up yet again, perfecting the ‘angry man in suit’ part he seems to picking up in many of the recent releases and Zeta Jones is quietly passable, her screen presence juxtaposing her character’s fear of her husband.
A decent attempt at rejuvenating a well known formula into something current though it falls short, lacking impact. On a brighter note, it’s a joy to watch the two stars give solid performances, sharing a few gripping scenes and aesthetically, it’s an ambitious homage, achieving the noir look it is going for. If the screenplay was as fitting a tribute as the visuals, then it would hold more value. Don’t expect this film to change your life, it won’t even make much of a difference to your week.
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