Magazine article Screen International

Exodus: Gods and Kings

Magazine article Screen International

Exodus: Gods and Kings

Article excerpt

Dir: Ridley Scott. US. 2014. 150mins

Spectacle run amok, Exodus: Gods And Kings is so big and brawny that it's almost laughably gargantuan. Mistaking massive amounts of CGI and epically dour performances for historical gravitas, Ridley Scott's latest wants to tell the story of Moses with the scope of a blockbuster but the soul of a gritty character drama. What that leaves us with, unfortunately, is a self-serious movie in which the filmmaker of Gladiator and Robin Hood buries an iconic tale in lavish overkill.

Rather than a larger-than-life hero, Moses in Exodus is portrayed as a modest, honourable man who eschewed the opulence that was sought out by others.

Opening in the US on December 12, this Fox release will hope to capitalise on Scott's connection to Gladiator, which at least provides a swords-and-sandals comparison for viewers to grasp. Exodus's star, Christian Bale, had his biggest hits as part of the Batman franchise, but he's also enjoyed commercial success with the recent American Hustle. Audience familiarity with the Moses story -- whether that extends beyond The Ten Commandments or not -- should play a factor as well, but Exodus does face some competition from another epic tale, The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies, which will hit theatres soon after. No sure thing at the box office, this movie will probably need a significant boost from international venues to ensure profitability.

Set around 1300 B.C., Exodus takes us to the time of the Egyptian pharaohs, as dying leader Seti (John Turturro) fears what will happen to his kingdom after his passing. His son Ramses (Joel Edgerton) is an immature, impulsive young man, while Ramses's loyal friend Moses (Bale) is a worthier heir to the throne, although his bloodline guarantees that can't happen. But once Seti dies, a shocking revelation comes out: Moses, who believed he was Egyptian, discovers that he's Hebrew, which automatically makes him a second-class citizen. Banished from the palace, Moses loses his sense of identity -- but when years later he has a vision from God asking him to free his fellow Hebrews who are enslaved by the Egyptians, he finds his calling.

Aiming for a darker tone than the Charlton Heston-Cecil B. DeMille Moses movie The Ten Commandments, Scott sees the Hebrew leader's story as a tale of redemption and defiance -- but also one in which God's actions sometimes seem cruel or arbitrary. There's plenty of thematic and emotional territory worth exploring in Exodus, but the director only digs into it on occasion, even as the movie's sombre tone creates a false impression that Moses and Ramses are battling it out in the midst of a thoughtful moral drama.

In truth, Exodus is a combination of some of the more tiresome trends in recent big-budget filmmaking. Although the movie tries to ground the proceedings in realism to give us a sense of authenticity, the scenes are lathered with digital effects so that the seeming magnificence of the Egyptian city of Memphis always looks depressingly phony. Plus, the action sequences -- not to mention the reveal of the different plagues, including locusts and frogs -- are so overblown that they're pummelling and numbing. From the film's start, it's clear that Scott wants Exodus's central conflict to be anchored by the wedge driven between two lifelong friends. But Scott doesn't give Moses and Ramses sufficient screen time to dramatise their bond, whereas the training montages and garish CGI establishing shots are lovingly, laboriously depicted. …

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