Magazine article Variety

'Exodus' a Thrilling Revival

Magazine article Variety

'Exodus' a Thrilling Revival

Article excerpt

'Exodus' a Thrilling Revival

It's not even that good a story," Moses grumbles early on in Ridley Scott's "Exodus: Gods and Kings," shortly after learning of the mysterious events that transformed a lowly Hebrew slave into a full-blown prince of Egypt. It's a sly wink from a filmmaker who clearly has a terrific if oft-told tale on his hands, yet faces a bit of a challenge in selling it to a more cynical, less easily razzle-dazzled audience than those who greeted the biblical epics of yesteryear. What's remarkable about Scott's genuinely imposing Old Testament psychodrama is the degree to which he succeeds in conjuring a mighty and momentous spectacle - one that, for sheer astonishment, rivals any of the lavish visions of ancient times the director has given us - while turning his own skepticism into a potent source of moral and psychological conflict.

If this estimable account of how God delivered His people out of Egypt feels like a movie for a decidedly secular age, its serious-minded, non-doctrinaire approach arguably gets far closer to penetrating the mystery of religious belief than a more reverent approach might have managed. The result stands alongside "Noah" as an uncommonly intelligent and respectful, if not exactly reverent, take on Scripture made by a nonbeliever, although compared with Darren Aronofsky's picture, this "Exodus" is less madly eccentric and more firmly grounded in the sword-andsandals tradition, and will almost certainly prove less divisive among the faithful.

Even with a hefty $140 million pricetag and a two-and-a-half-hour running time, Fox's year-end prestige release should ride 3D ticket premiums and general curiosity to muscular returns worldwide.

If there's a controversial talking point here, it's the way Scott's film continues the tradition of using white actors to populate an English-language picture ostensibly set at the intersection of Africa, Europe and the Middle East: In addition to Christian Bale's star turn as Moses, the picture features Joel Edgerton as his stepbrother, Ramses, his physical transformations made reasonably convincing thanks to state-of-the-art bronzing techniques and heavy applications of guyliner. Yet while such choices are problematic, dictated by commercial imperatives as old as Methuselah, one willingly suspends reservations as the strength of the performances and the irresistible pull of Scott's storytelling take hold.

You know you're in good hands when "Exodus" begins not with an infant floating among the reeds, but with Bale's fully grown Moses living in the palace of the aging pharoah Seti (John Ttirturro), some 1,300 years before Christ - one of many ways in which Scott and his four credited screenwriters shrewdly forego the usual storybook trimmings in favor of a crisp, focused retelling. The film swiftly establishes the brotherly bond between Moses, a favored general in Seti's army, and Ramses, the pharoah-to-be, their intimate relationship sealed by the matching swords they wear into battle.

Moses pays a fateful visit to the city of Pithom, affording us a closeup look at the cruel political machinery that has kept the Israelites enslaved for 400 years. Unsettled by his glimpses of a slow-motion genocide in progress, he responds to a summons from Nun (Ben Kingsley), a wise elder who reveals the facts of Moses' Hebrew lineage. Far from setting him free, the truth becomes his undoing when it falls into the hands of Pithom's calculating viceroy (Ben Mendelsohn), hastening Moses' exit from the royal family and Egypt altogether. …

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