Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Starring: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Ben Kingsley, Sigourney Weaver
Those hoping to be transported back to the grandiose brilliance of Cecil B. DeMille’s biblical epics may find themselves looking to a higher power for answers once the curtain comes down on Exodus: Gods and Kings. Ridley Scott, ever the filmmaker driven to offer audiences something that’s fresh and fantastic, has laudably attempted to integrate new age ideas into his retelling of this Old Testament tale. Sadly all he can conjure is another inconsequential mess to add to the list of duds that plague the back end of his filmography.
Befitting his colossal ambitions, Scott does succeed in crafting an authentically awe-inspiring swords and sandals tableau that’s enriched with superbly constructed Egyptian architecture and lavish ancient regalia. It’s an environment of magnificent opulence, but one that’s augmented with a dark, foreboding atmosphere through the plight of the peasants who rot in the putrid shantytowns that surround the royal palace.
Against this affecting backdrop, Scott weaves his own version of Moses’ story. It’s essentially an amalgamation of DeMille’s Ten Commandments and DreamWorks’ Prince of Egypt, drawing on the rivalry between Moses (Christian Bale) and Remses (Joel Edgerton). The former is on a mission from God to free the Hebrew slaves who are devoted to the great Almighty, while the latter is a defiant leader who considers himself to be the only deity worth worshipping.
With the Plagues all accounted for, the Commandments inscribed, a bush burned and a sea parted, it’s clear that Scott and his committee of scriptwriters (Adam Cooper, Billy Collage, Jeffrey Caine and Steven Zaillian) are keen to make sure Exodus is a faithful retelling. Yet throughout they seem uncertain as to whether they want it to be a religious one. God is technically present, but he appears to Moses in the guise of a vindictive child who may or may not be a figment of the prophet’s imagination.
Many of the Plagues are passed off as moments of extraordinary natural phenomena, as is the parting of the Red Sea. It’s a curious and, some could argue, a brave creative decision designed to encourage the audience to question and debate their own thoughts and beliefs. However, the execution feels timid and uncomfortable, as if both the writers and filmmaker were deeply hesitant about directly addressing the story’s spirituality.
Further sins are to be found at the core of Scott’s film. Dialogue is infuriatingly melodramatic, turning large chunks of the film into a biblical soap opera that’s cursed with a lengthy running time (150 minutes) that meanders from one set piece to the next at a lethargic pace. Then there’s the talents of great veteran actors such as Sigourney Weaver and John Turturro, which are wasted in favour of exhaustingly theatrical performances from Joel Edgerton and Ben Mendelsohn. By the end you’ll likely find yourself on your knees in the auditorium’s aisles, praying for B. DeMille.