When Noah hits Australian cinemas on March 27, Russell Crowe will join a select group of actors who have attempted to translate the Bible to the big screen. So far, reviews have not been complimentary.
Director Darren Aronofsky (of 2010’s Black Swan) told audiences at the movie’s Mexico City premiere, “It’s a very, very different film. Anything you’re expecting, you’re f***ing wrong.”
While critics may have had varied expectations, they have apparently all agreed that the final product was disappointing.
Mexico City radio critic Mario P. Szekely told The Hollywood Reporter that he predicts audiences will struggle to connect with Crowe’s Noah because “it betrays the essence of the biblical character, and the payoff just isn’t good enough”.
The film has already been barred from local cinemas in the United Arab Emirates for containing “scenes that contradict Islam and the Bible”, the director of media content at the National Media Center in the United Arab Emirates, Juma Al-Leem, told the Associated Press.
Divided opinion hasn’t prevented the film’s star, Crowe, from spruiking the movie to none other than the Pope himself. The 49 year-old actor personally contacted Pope Francis’ official Twitter account, offering him a private screening of the movie and assuring him it will “fascinate” him.
— Russell Crowe (@russellcrowe) February 25, 2014
False confidence or not, Crowe has some big shoes to fill. Biblical stories are risky fodder for blockbuster films and the actors starring in them face either brutal backlash or critical and religious applause. Here, we look back at the actors who have brought scripture to the screen in a memorable fashion, whether it be for the right or wrong reasons. Noah doubt about it.
Charlton Heston as Moses
Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 blockbuster The Ten Commandments followed the life of Moses, from his childhood as an adopted Egyptian prince to the moment he receives the Ten Commandments from God. As Moses, Heston won the hearts of audiences and the praise of critics, receiving a Golden Globe award for his portrayal of the prophet.
The role made Heston an icon and a favourite to headline subsequent biblical and historical films, taking the screen again as Judah Ben-Hur in the 1959’s high-grossing Ben-Hur. His heroic delivery of the “Let my people go” line was particularly impactful.
Morgan Freeman as God
This was a recurring role for the velvet-voiced Freeman who played the Supreme Being in both 2003’s Bruce Almighty and its 2007 sequel Evan Almighty. Freeman’s calm but commanding sense of authority makes him a believable choice for a role that would otherwise have been incredibly difficult to cast. Freeman describes playing God as his “most unusual” role to date, but told The Washington Post he wasn’t surprised to be approached.
“I’ve gotten that reputation, you know, for gravitas and some sort of dignity, that sort of thing. All that can be wrapped around authority,” Freeman said. His slightly tongue-in-cheek portrayal managed to avoid much of the usual controversy surrounding films that toy with religion, perhaps because of that much-loved vocal tone.
Graham Chapman as Brian
Perhaps not quite biblical, but definitely memorable, Chapman’s hilarious role as Jesus Christ’s next-door neighbour and lookalike in Monty Python’s The Life of Brian was certainly contentious. The 1979 movie was banned in several countries, merely encouraging the film’s cheeky creators, who penned the slogan “So funny it was banned in Norway!”
Chapman plays the hapless Brian Cohen, a man constantly mistaken for the Messiah, who struggles to cope with the sudden attention. His mother dismisses his newfound followers with the infamous line, “He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy!”
Monica Bellucci as Mary Magdalene
The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson’s controversial 2004 retelling of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion, was incredibly divisive due to what many describe as anti-semitic content. The choice of Bellucci, an Italian sex symbol, to play Mary Magdalene was also an interesting one.
Bellucci was traditionally known for playing raunchier roles, with many of her previous films featuring nudity and sex scenes. She provided an arguably glamourised image of the apostle, who is today considered as a saint by several churches, but critics applauded her nuanced portrayal.
Willem Dafoe as Jesus Christ
Martin Scorsese presented his version of Jesus Christ in 1988’s The Last Temptation of Christ, documenting Christ’s struggles with temptation as adapted from a contentious 1953 novel of the same name. Because of the plot’s significant departures from the gospel, the movie generated huge backlash and even prompted a Christian fundamentalist to attack a Paris theatre during a screening of the film.
Many found Dafoe’s interpretation to be an honest one, despite the controversy. Rogert Ebert said that Dafoe “creates a man who is the embodiment of dutiful masochism”.
Brigid Bazlen as Salome
The American actress only starred in three films throughout her career, but her role as what was arguably the original femme fatale in 1961’s King of Kings is her most celebrated. Bazlen, whose beauty was compared to Elizabeth Taylor’s, was chosen to play the temptress who demands the head of John the Baptist in the film with a seductive dance for her Stepfather, King Herod. Bazlen’s performance of the infamous Dance of the Seven Veils was alluring and unforgettable.