A handsome dark-haired French actor, Sami Frey began his career as a teen actor on stage and in features. His screen profile increased in tandem with the rise of the French New Wave and he enjoyed ear...
Paramount Pictures via Everett Collection
Here's a feat: taking what is likely the oldest, most well-known story in the world, and making a retelling feel inventive. Over the course of its two-and-a-half-hour runtime, Darren Aronofsky's Noah takes many forms — Tolkien-esque fantasy, trippy psychological thriller, merciless dissection of the dark points of abject faith — never feeling too rigidly confined to the parameters of the familiar tale that we've all experienced in the form of bedtime stories, religious education lessons, and vegetable-laden cartoons. As many forms as the parable has taken over the past few thousand years, Aronofsky manages to find a few new takes.
The director's thumbprint is branded boldly on Russell Crowe's Noah, a man who begins his journey as a simple pawn of God and evolves into a dimensional human as tortured as Natalie Portman's ballerina or Jared Leto's smack head. Noah's obsession and crisis: his faith. The peak of the righteous descendant of Seth (that's Adam and Eve's third son — the one who didn't die or bash his brother's head in with a rock), Noah is determined to carry out the heavenly mission imparted upon him via ambiguous, psychedelic visions. God wants him to do something — spoilers: build an ark — and he will do it. No matter what.
No matter what it means to his family, to his lineage, to his fellow man, to the world. He's going to do it. No matter what. The depths to which Aronofsky explores this simple concept — the nature of unmitigated devotion — makes what we all knew as a simplistic A-to-B children's story so gripping. While the throughline is not a far cry from the themes explored in his previous works, the application of his Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler, and Black Swan ideas in this movie does not feel like a rehashing. Experiencing such modern, humane ideas in biblical epic is, in fact, a thrill-ride.
Paramount Pictures via Everett Collection
Although Aronofsky accesses some highly guttural stuff inside of his title character, he lets whimsy and imagination take hold of the world outside of him. Jumping headfirst into the fantastical, the director lines his magical realm with rock monsters — "Watcher" angels encased in Earth-anchored prisons as punishment for their betrayal of God — and a variety of fauna that range in innovation from your traditional white dove to some kind of horned, scaled dog bastardization.
But the most winning elements of Noah, and easily the most surprising, come when Aronofsky goes cosmic. He jumps beyond the literal to send us coursing through eons to watch the creation of God's universe, matter exploding from oblivion, a line of creatures evolving (in earnest) into one another as the planet progresses to the point at which we meet our tortured seafarer. Aronofsky's imagination, his aptitude as a cinematic magician, peak (not just in terms of the film, but in terms of his career) in these scenes.
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With all this propped against the stark humanity of his story — not just in terms of Crowe's existential spiral, but in character beats like grandfather Methuselah's relationship with the youngsters, in little Ham's playful teasing of his new rock monster pet — Aronofsky manages something we never could have anticipated from Noah. It's scientific, cathartic, humane. Impressively, this age-old tale, here, is new. And beyond that feat, it's a pretty winning spin.
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Had the leading role of a knight in the period film "L'Amour conjugal/Conjugal Love"
Co-starred in Jean-Luc Godard's "Bande a Part/Band of Outsiders"
Gave one of his best performances as French poet Antonin Artaud in "My Life and Times with Antonin Artaud"
US acting debut, "The Little Drummer Girl"
Had stage success in "L'annee du Bac"
Played an entrpreneur in "Black Widow", directed by Bob Rafelson
Starred opposite Catherine Deneuve in "Manon 70"
American TV debut in the epic ABC miniseries, "War and Remembrance"
Film debut, "Pardonnez nos Offenses"
Breakthrough feature, "Cleo from 5 to 7/Cleo de 5 a 7", directed by Agnes Varda
Cast as Aramis in Bernard Tavernier's "D'Artagnan's Daughter"
A handsome dark-haired French actor, Sami Frey began his career as a teen actor on stage and in features. His screen profile increased in tandem with the rise of the French New Wave and he enjoyed early success in Agnes Varda's "Cleo From 5 to 7/Cleo de 5 a 7" (1962) and Jean-Luc Godard's "Bande a Part/Band of Outsiders" (1964). A prolific actor with more than 50 films to his credit, Frey often was cast as the eccentric. During his long career, he worked for some of the leading filmmakers including Jean-Paul Rappeneau ("Les Marie de l'an II" 1971), Marguerite Duras ("Jaune le soleil" 1972) and Colinne Serreau ("Pourquoi Pas!" 1978). In 1984, Frey made his American film debut as the target for Diane Keaton's "The Little Drummer Girl". Bob Rafelson tapped him to play a suave entrepreneur whom both Debra Winger and Theresa Russell find attractive in the noirish "Black Widow" (1987). The actor also was impressive in a pivotal role as a French Zionist in the epic ABC miniseries "War and Remembrance" (1988). Frey has continued to appear onstage in France and more recently earned critical praise for his portrayal of poet Antonin Artaud in "My Life and Times with Antonin Artaud" (1993; released in the USA in 1995) and as a knight banished from court who finds romance with a peasant in "L'Amour Conjugal/Conjugal Love" (1995).