DIR: Ridley Scott • WRI: Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, Jeffrey Caine, Steven Zaillian • PRO: Peter Chernin, Mohamed El Raie, Mark Huffam, Michael Schaefer, Ridley Scott, Jenno Topping • DOP: Dariusz Wolski • ED: Billy Rich • DES: Arthur Max • MUS: Alberto Iglesias • CAST: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Ben Kingsley
Going purely by the high-octane trailers, you’d be forgiven for thinking Exodus: Gods and Kings was a non-stop action movie, where Moses becomes a sort of biblical Rambo. However, Ridley Scott seems to be going for a mix of his millennial opus Gladiator and Darren Aronofsky’s recent surrealist Noah, adding existential wandering and buckets of internal conflict to bring up the running time. This means that there is far less action than advertised, but tons of character development and time for reflection.
Christian Bale is, of course, intense and serious as he portrays the inner pain of Moses, even in the earlier scenes when he and Ramses fight on the same side. Joel Edgerton brings the evil Ramses to screen with dramatic flair, defying his father Seti’s (John Turtorro) wishes that he and Moses live as brothers, and works with his scheming mother Tuva (a criminally underused Sigourney Weaver) to ensure that power rests solely with himself. He defies Moses’ God, recently introduced to Moses himself by newfound brethren amongst the Hebrew slaves – including Ben Kingsley’s character, Nun, and Aaron Paul’s non-entity, Joshua. Eventually, God joins Moses in his fight, and brings the ten plagues down upon Egypt to try force Ramses to acknowledge his power, and release the slaves.
Scott clearly relished portraying the plagues, and they look amazing – watching an entire river run with blood, a wall of flies fill the sky all around, or a darkness descending that will take the firstborn sons of Egypt is every bit as frightening as it should be. These moments, though, are not enough to lift Exodus out of an overall feeling of tedium… and the movie feels every inch its 150-minute running time. An ending upon an ending, Ramses then pursues Moses into the waters of the Red Sea, at which point the movie simultaneously climaxes and begins to dwindle, unsure of how to finish this renowned tale.
This does not make for the sprawling epic Scott clearly imagined. While visually the movie is often stunning, with some beautifully choreographed fight scenes that are every bit as intense as the previews promised, it lags far too much in extensive side-stories, and tries to walk a very fine line between religious fervour and straightforward drama. It doesn’t always work, and while Bale admirably portrays a very human Moses, the character’s conversations with God are made with an attempt at ambiguity that just comes across heavy-handed. Yes, this is largely down to the source material – Moses leading the chosen people out of slavery and into the desert after a series of plagues convinces the Pharaoh to let them leave isn’t the most subtle of religious tales – but the screenplay works harder at appearing clever than ever actually saying anything new about an ancient legend.
Everything about the anticipation for Exodus screamed ‘epic’, but the delivery is more ‘daytime TV bible stories’ (with expensive CGI) than anything else, and unfortunately lacks any real heart that might lift it from banality.
12A (See IFCO for details)
Exodus: Gods and Kings is released 26th December.