Overview: After a trying life, an Irish woman blindly follows her faith to Saigon, where her efforts to rescue orphans saves countless children. Aspiration Media/Antsy Films/Destiny Films; 2015; 101 Minutes.
Cinematic Sins: For a film that is focused, primarily, on the strength of blind faith, it is almost meta-textual when Noble, the new film from Stephen Bradley, moves so dangerously close to cinematic cardinal sins. This biographical feature about Christina Noble, whose namesake foundation has saved nearly a million children in Vietnam, dares introduction to a culture that has grown vocally tired of white savior films, movies in which troubled foreign or alien cultures are saved by non-native white folks. Noble is portrayed by three different actresses, each assigned to a different age set. And, atop all of that, the entire structure is built upon a religion-positive narrative when those types of films haven’t fared too well with the critical or commercial communities as of late. So, it’s quite an astonishing thing when Noble moves rather gracefully through these self-established obstacles with only minor stumbles and winds up being a powerful film testimony regarding the most selfless form of love and the purest brand of faith.
Noble-ity: Perhaps the most traceable explanation that the film never suffers to its title character’s changing faces is attributable to the strength of each actress’ performance. Young Gloria Cramer Curtis is somehow spitfire strong and adorable, while the latest-in-life iteration of Noble is played by Dierdre O’Kane, whose power is almost overly evident in each quick-witted defensive snark. Between them, the knot of the character is teen-to-twenties Noble, played by Sarah Greene, who absorbs the most jarring personal narrative turns and tragedies. Director Stephan Bradley arranges his film non-chronologically, as to carefully pace the construction of a complex character while the viewer witnesses the narrative parallel of her crowning philanthropic achievement. Greene’s chapters of the film are the most pivotal in keeping this intentionally broken format functioning as a narrative machine. Her misfortunes are heavily felt without interference of melodrama and her prayerful conversations make for the film’s most human chapters. While O’Kane is more than adequate in the heroic Vietnam-based chapters of the film, the substance of her character stands sturdy atop the foundational work of Greene. Within the context of the film, each of the three actresses deserves a fair share of credit, but don’t be surprised if this proves to be the first big step in a long career for young Sarah Greene.
Sidestepping Slippery Slopes: As for the other high caution storytelling decisions, Noble avoids the common catastrophe of the “white savior” film by being cautious to investigate both the existing conditions of the broken Vietnamese culture and the necessity of that culture’s participation within the solution. There exists a short uncomfortable stretch in which the orphaned Saigon children (tragically referred to as “dust beneath our feet” by locals) stay a bit unexplored, but my concerns that they might be placed only as platforms on which to perch Noble’s heroism is quickly assuaged when the second act employs their hardship and history in a central fashion. And Bradley, who also wrote the script as an adaptation of Noble’s life story, never employs religion as a Deus ex machine and Noble’s early life hardship is never remedied by her faith. Her commitment to her belief never leans upon divine justification, leaving the charitable material of her compassionate love and her stubborn faith to stand as their own testament.
Overall: Noble is a well-deserved celebration of a selfless hero that manages to avoid common pratfalls and delivers a story as powerful and inspirational as biographical films can hope to be.