From what I have heard when in school, the story of Noah was never quite complicated and involved more than a handful of roles. However with a director of the pedigree and complexity of Darren Aronofsky at the helm, it was always going to be interesting what layers he'd add to the tale. Without taking a staunch stance on the religious connotations of the tale, Aronofsky adds meat to the movie with characters and sub-plots which add a strong twist of ethics and moral ambiguity resulting in a tale that is as much about the creator as his creation. Those willing to keep an open mind and read between the lines will be surprised by all that the movie has to offer despite some cumbersome dialogue, pacing and extended running length.
The movie starts off with the story of the corruption of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, proceeding to the murder of Abel by Cain, and then moving to a young Noah (descendent of Seth) witnessing the death of his father at the hands of Tubal Cain (a descendent of Cain). Now living "off the grid" (away from civilization), Noah has three sons and a doting wife, Naameh (Jennifer Connolly) and wants nothing more from life. The visions however he receives in a dream convince him, that the creator speaks to him and will destroy all things vile in the world (mankind). Noah goes to his grandfather, Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins) for advice where another vision convinces him to build an Ark and bring forth two of every animal to save when the creator floods the world. This is the simple part of the story.
The other part involves large rock giants, called Watchers, who are fallen angels and become Noah's private army and workforce so they can attain redemption for their past misdoings. There's also a young girl, Ila (later played by Emma Watson), whom Noah rescues from a massacre and takes her under his care; plus the anxiety of his middle son, Ham (Logan Lerman) at being the only male on the ship without a mate when the flood comes.
The movie has a few standout sequences and for a while it seems like they are the amalgamation of the hypnotic hyper-visual montages from Malick's 'The Tree of Life' and Aronofsky's own 'The Fountain'. A sequence chronicling the path of a newborn river as it snakes across barren land, bringing life to all it touches, is breathtaking created using a succession of still photographs. When two doves drink from the water of the river and know instantly they have to fly to the Ark, you can't help but look at the river as an analogy for the snake in the garden of Eden and knowledge it's existence provided. Maybe I'm completely off, in my interpretation but Aronofsky's movie without being explicit provides an avenue for such thoughts.
After the Ark has set forth, Noah reassures his family with the tale of the creation of the world and visually Aronofsky enthrals you. Here is a narration of the Biblical creation of the cosmos, yet interceded with images which are clearly something of the big bang. He doesn't stop there, and proceeds with a narration of the seven days and how life was created on earth and intercedes that with the Darwinian process of evolution. These scenes work on every level from viscerally to intellectually and they are such a beauty to behold.
Now for the part that doesn't quite gel together. The dialogue is stilted in parts and some subplots take up far more time than they deserve. Some scenes seem lifted straight from the Lord of the Rings and though offer action and adventure, are of no real consequence beyond scaling the movie to "epic" category. Plus at more than 130 minutes, it can be a real stretch to sit through considering the 3D adage.
Noah is gruff and like most roles Russell Crowe plays and in this version he's not afraid to get his hands dirty to accomplish his "mission" from the Creator; at times blurring the line between good and bad. The rest of the cast is quite competent and Connolly particularly shines towards the end in an emotional outburst laced with such bitterness that it'll make you despise Noah.
'Noah' is movie filled with visually and thematically riches that will offer much for those looking for more than just a simple retelling of the tale of Noah. Yes, it is cumbersome and some of the dialouge and scenes worthy of unintentional laughter but despite it's flaws it works.