Exodus: Gods and Kings

Genre: Action, Drama

Director: Ridley Scott

Writers: Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, Jeffrey Caine, Steven Zaillian

Cast: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, John Turturro, Aaron Paul, Ben Mendelsohn, Maria Valverde, Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kingsley, Isaac Andrews, Hiam Abbass, Indira Varma, Ewen Bremner, Golshifteh Farahani, Ghassan Massoud, Tara Fitzgerald, Maria Valverde, Andrew Barclay Tarbet

Running Length: 150 minutes

Synopsis: From acclaimed director Ridley Scott (Gladiator, Prometheus) comes the epic adventure Exodus: Gods and Kings, the story of one man’s daring courage to take on the might of an empire. Using state of the art visual effects and 3D immersion, Scott brings new life to the story of the defiant leader Moses (Christian Bale) as he rises up against the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses (Joel Edgerton), setting 600,000 slaves on a monumental journey of escape from Egypt and its terrifying cycle of deadly plagues.

Review: It’s apt to quote from Ridley Scott’s own Gladiator, since it was the movie that made the sword-and-sandals epic cool again – “Are you not entertained?” Because this is one of the main problems I have with Exodus – although it is sufficiently stirring sporadically, and shows a really masterful use of CGI, the film is simply not that entertaining, bringing nothing new to the tale of the Ten Commandments, and actually ends up being less interesting than Cecil B. DeMille’s still-definitive 1956 version.

Perhaps it’s because Ridley Scott didn’t seem to set out to make a religious epic, and much like Darren Aronofsky’s Noah earlier in the year, attempts to make certain scenes more secular and logical, that the film takes a big hit. The parting of the Red Sea certainly feels more realistic, but does not inspire any awe. The plagues visited upon Egypt are brilliant CGI setpieces, but at the same time come across as being perfunctory, as though Scott is checking off an invisible list of the ten plagues, just making sure that they all end up in the film. The burning bush and the Ten Commandments seem more like afterthoughts, and are not given the dramatic heft that they should have been. The personification of God is also a questionable decision – I am not sure if assigning an actor to play God (literally) is more effective than a loud booming voice, as clichéd as the latter sounds.

Although Scott and his team of 4 writers correctly presume that a good majority of the audience would be at least somewhat familiar with the story of Moses, broad narrative gaps appear in the film, which almost makes the film feel disjointed. And yet, the film devotes so much time to the setup that when thing finally get going in the last hour, the pacing suddenly speeds up and the entire proceedings start feeling rushed. To add insult to injury, after a rather stirring finale act of crossing the Red Sea, Scott decided to keep the narrative running just a bit too long, leading to a drawn out and wholly anticlimactic denouement.

Putting aside the fact that the film is populated by white actors instead of ethnic actors more appropriate to the story’s locations, even the A-list names in the cast feel a bit out of place. The normally supremely dependable Christian Bale feels a little stilted in his portrayal as Moses, and Joel Edgerton basically depends on his bronzer and guyliner to carry his performance as Ramses. These are not bad performances by any measure, but again, so much drama is dialed back that it just comes across as being too muted for an epic film like this one. Other notable actors like Ben Kingsley, Sigourney Weaver, John Turturro and Aaron Paul barely register, completely wasted in parts where they have too little to do.

Thankfully, the few action setpieces are quite rousing, if never reaching the level of Scott’s best films. Also, for a film that’s steeped in CG by necessity, Exodus actually comes across as being visually stunning without being too clearly artificial (though there’s absolutely no necessity to catch the film in 3D). In this day and age where a straight-up biblical epic may no longer be palatable to the general audience, both experiments in 2014 have been only moderately successful. There is really no reason to remake The Ten Commandments, and the results only serve to reinforce this. Here’s hoping that Scott’s next cinematic outing (The Martian, coming in end 2015) would prove to be a more compelling film.

Rating: * * ½ (out of four stars)


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