Featuring: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, John Turturro, Aaron Paul, Adam Cooper, Ben Mendelsohn, Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kingsley, Maria Valverde
Director: Ridley Scott
Screenwriter: Ridley Scott, Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, Jeffrey Caine, Steven Zaillian
Movie website: www.exodus-godsandkings.com.au/#home
Australian release date: 4 December 2014
Verdict: A Biblical extravaganza big on CGI/3D-driven spectacle, but short on dramatic and emotional clout.
Big budget + Biblical epic + 21st century Hollywood technical whizzbangery = spectacle on a grand scale. Director Ridley Scott delivers big-time on that equation. Plus he has assembled a stellar cast. It ain’t enough.
This is a massive big-budget swing at a box office home run, and if that’s the primary objective it may well succeed. However, might ain’t necessarily right, and truth to tell, there’s a lot about Exodus: God and Kings that is wrong.
We’re talking serious shortcomings here. For a start, it’s all too-too, grandiose rather than grand (like the film’s title). And perversely, while ancient Egypt is imagined into glorious being through CGI and 3D, and catastrophic weather events, locust plagues and the like are impressively staged, some of the dramatically-charged iconography the viewer has every right to anticipate with high expectations in a contemporary Hollywood re-telling of the Moses story are side-stepped! Think the Burning Bush, the Ten Commandments and the parting of the Red Sea – all curiously underwhelming.
Then there’s the representation of God as a supercilious pre-pubescent schoolboy with a whiney-toned English accent (as if there were not already a credibility gap deriving from the English-speaking American-accented cast). Granted, the God of the Old Testament does behave in the manner of a nasty, petulant, vengeful little shit, but surely having Him as a Pommy schoolboy is many, many metaphoric steps too far!
The Biblical narrative on Moses is short on detail, so any feature length movie version must necessarily take some liberties to fatten up the lean tale. In this case, the relationship between Moses (Christian Bale) and Egyptian pharaoh Ramses (Joel Edgerton) takes centre stage. Adopted into royalty as a baby, Moses has grown up with Ramses and they are best buddies, although philosophically at odds: Moses is a sceptic, dismissing the Egyptian deities and prophets as hocus pocus; Ramses believes in the Egyptian gods, and self-servingly, in the Pharaoh as supreme deity. The relationship sours, then deteriorates into bitter enmity when – ironically – Moses is identified by a Hebrew as the prophesised leader who will liberate his people from slavery and lead them to their homeland. His ready acceptance of the word of a slave (all the Hebrews are depicted as such) and speedy transition from sceptic to believer in his own prophesised holy destiny is a glaring weakness in the narrative.
The performances are secondary in a visually dominant piece like this, but it has to be said that Christian Bale lacks the gravitas of a credible Moses, especially in his youthful phase. Edgerton does better as Ramses. As Zipporah, Moses’ wife, Maria Valverde doesn’t have a lot to say, but is stunningly beautiful (her headgear is glorious!). There are lots of cameo roles from name actors. Watch for Aaron Paul as Joshua – the lad’s a looong way removed from his Jesse character in Breaking Bad!
I’m not a fan of 3D, but it adds to the spectacle here – and that’s the name of this game. If pyrotechnics are your thing, this extravaganza will do it for you. Those who dare to ask for more will leave the cinema less than replete.
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