Noah, rated PG-13

Starring Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Hopkins, Ray Winstone, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman

Austin Family critical rating:  5 of 5 stars

Austin Family family-friendly rating:  3 of 5 stars

It’s been a while since a movie took my breath away, but Darren Aronofsky’s stunningly beautiful and unsettling “Noah” did just that. This movie is an example of what happens when you give total control to a visionary filmmaker.

It is also the most powerful film about faith since Martin Scorsese’s “The Last Temptation of Christ” (1988), another religious film wrongly deemed blasphemous for asking questions rather than providing answers. We should yearn for more challenging, powerful films that show biblical characters reckoning with their faith and grappling with the contradictions of what they’ve been asked. This is what both “The Last Temptation of Christ” and “Noah” offer, and they’re both among the most spiritual movies I’ve seen.

Noah (Russell Crowe), a peaceful man, is the grandson of Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins) and lives a nomadic life with his wife and three sons. He has hallucinatory visions in his sleep, which are among the most striking imagery Aronofsky has ever put on film. Noah interprets these visions to mean that a great flood is coming, and he must build an ark to save his family and repopulate the new world.

Left to drown in the flood will be the barbaric descendants of Cain, led by Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone). Tubal-cain is the movie’s villain, but Aronofsky treats us to thoughtful moments where we see him struggling to understand why God speaks to Noah but not to him.

The movie’s ambitions extend so far as to give us a glimpse of the birth of loneliness, with Noah’s second son Ham (Logan Lerman) longing for a female companion in the shadow of his brother Shem’s romance with Ila (Emma Watson). When Ham falls under the wing of Tubal-cain and listens to his sometimes-reasonable doubts about Noah’s mission, the movie suggests that the separation between the darkness and the light is terrifyingly murky.

None of the actors are wasted in “Noah.” Watson and Jennifer Connelly are given scenes of surprising depth and power, particularly as their characters are faced with Noah’s fierce will in the film’s final third. Winstone and Hopkins are brilliant, and Crowe takes charge of the movie, making us believe every minute of it – it’s his best performance in some time.

I long for more films where characters grapple with moral dilemmas that aren’t easily explained – where the choice between the right thing and the wrong thing is terribly unclear and every madman may be a savior. “Noah” gets everything right.

Jack Kyser is a graduate of Austin High School and New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

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