Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Ridley Scott
Stars: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Aaron Paul, John Turturro, Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kinglsey, Ben Mendelsohn, Hiam Abbas, Indira Varma, Maria Valverde, Golshiftah Farahani.
Following on from films like the Oscar winning Gladiator, Kingdom Of Heaven and his messy Robin Hood, prolific director Ridley Scott makes another huge historical epic, this time taking us back to the story of Moses, who led 600,000 Hebrews out of slavery and to freedom in the promised land. It is a story that has been told on screen many times before, most notably in Cecil B De Mille’s spectacular 1959 epic The Ten Commandments, but this loose remake is surprisingly dull and flat. And Scott doesn’t bring anything particularly fresh to the table. Even The Prince Of Egypt, the animated Dreamworks version of the familiar tale, had more energy and entertainment value than this lumbering and portentous drama.
The half-brother to Ramses II (Joel Edgerton), Moses (played by Christian Bale) is a gifted warrior and trusted chief military advisor to Pharaoh Seti (John Turturro). But when his true identity as a Hebrew is revealed, Moses finds himself exiled and condemned to wander the wilderness. He finds solace and comfort in a small farming village where he eventually marries and starts a family of his own. But he feels a restlessness, and after long conversations with God (depicted here for some reason as a petulant child) he eventually takes up his mission to free the Hebrew people, who have endured some 400 years of servitude.
Exodus Gods And Kings is certainly an ambitious, large scale, big budget production and Scott tries hard to emulate those classic Biblical epics of yesteryear. There is an early battle sequence that is robust and muscular in its staging. There are also some superb special effects here, especially in the digitally enhanced recreation of the sprawling ancient Egyptian city of Memphis. We get the various plagues that a vengeful God unleashes on Egypt – the Nile turning red, the locusts, boils, frogs, the death of firstborn children, etc – all rendered with the aid of CGI special effects. However, the climactic parting of the Red Sea here seems rather anemic and flat, and lacks the dramatic tension of De Mille’s 1959 film.
This is an imperfect film. Apart from cynical commercial considerations there was no real need to have Exodus Gods And Kings presented in 3D, as the process adds little to the drama or the overall look of the film. Those scenes in which Moses wanders alone in the wilderness and communicates with God are shot in greyish hues, and the 3D renders them even more murky and visually dull. Exodus was largely shot in Spain, and while cinematographer Dariusz Wolski captures some wonderful vistas in widescreen, for the most part the film is visually dull and uninspiring.
Bale may be a good actor and he certainly has a brooding intensity that is perfectly suited to many of the roles he has played, but he lacks the gravitas and authority, and indeed that grand voice, that Charlton Heston brought to the role. His Moses is a much more flawed character plagued by doubts and initially reluctant to be the leader of his people.
Edgerton portrays Ramses as a vain, arrogant tyrant complete with a sense of entitlement, and who is more concerned with building lavish palaces and monuments than he is with the welfare of his people. With his shaven head and facial expressions he manages to convey a certain cruelness and coldness about his character.
A central theme of brotherhood adds a poignant touch to the film, which has been dedicated to Scott’s late brother Tony.
Sigourney Weaver and John Turturro are largely wasted as the Pharaoh Seti and his wife, while Ben Kingsley is also wasted in a small role as Nun, a wise elder who organises the Hebrews into a rebellious underground resistance. Ben Mendelsohn gives a strangely effeminate performance as Hegep, a corrupt viceroy who brings about Moses’ downfall in order to save his own skin.
Four scriptwriters, including Oscar winner Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List, The Gangs Of New York, etc), Bill Collage and Adam Cooper (Tower Heist, etc), and television writer Jeffrey Caine have laboured over the screenplay, which probably accounts for its uneven tone. Scott, a self-professed agnostic, gives this Old Testament tale a strangely secular touch, especially when it comes to key events like the parting of the Red Sea and the Ten Commandments themselves. And, as with Darren Aronofsky with Noah, he suffuses the material with an overly earnest approach that is somewhat dull. His pacing is also uneven, and there many sections of the film that drag and seem leaden.
Exodus Gods And Kings limps along for 149 minutes. It is enough to have audiences screaming in frustration: “Let my people go!” (to paraphrase a famous quote of Hollywood legend.)