2 June 2015

Review: Exodus: Gods & Kings

(Dir: Ridley Scott, 2014)

If there's one thing we learnt from Darren Aronofsky's Noah (and I don't mean that he should stick to the challenging, creative type of film that's been his raison d'ĂȘtre so far), it's that biblical epics don't seem to work when run through the now standard, modern, fantasy mill. I guess it was too late for that lesson to be learnt by Exodus: Gods and Kings - Ridley Scott's stab at the story of Moses. Having spent a whole two and a half hours in it's company, like the aforementioned Noah, I'm really wishing I hadn't bothered.

The film falters thanks to it's belief that spectacle is everything. Now it's impossible to deny that Scott has a superb eye for the visual - that can be seen within just about every film he's made. And there's no shying away from the fact that Exodus: Gods and Kings looks stunning. As the camera moves over the under-construction Egyptian city of Memphis and the slave town of Pithom it's hard not to be awed, likewise when we see chariots racing across the barren lands and round mountain passes. It only falters visually with some of the water based effects work. But all this aside, the rest of the film feels hollow.

Christian Bale's casting as Moses still doesn't totally sit right. When taking on certain weighty aspects of the role he feels wrong, overplaying things and almost pulling you out of the film as you focus on the actor rather than the character. But on the other hand he remains an engaging watch. The same could be said of Joel Egerton's Rameses, except he doesn't get enough screen time. But the most interesting aspect of the film, essentially where it starts but mostly jettisons after thirty or so minutes, is the relationship between the two as their comfortable world of power is blown open. Thereafter their interactions are minimal and the dynamic and interplay between the pair lingers over the far less interesting remainder of the film.

Now of course it's all tied to the biblical story so opportunities to deviate are heresy (to some), but it felt like it was really going through the motions with the plagues bestowed upon the Egyptians, whilst building to a very anticlimactic parting of the red sea. The latter particularly plays out like some grandly epic event as Moses goes through the inevitable crisis of faith but it's all so very "so what?". You also have to wonder why such a good cast were recruited for such irrelevant roles. Did Sigourney Weaver and Aaron Paul have lots of dialogue left on the editing room floor? At least Ben Mendhelson gets to play out his standard creepy menace in an intriguingly different manner.

Ultimately a film like Exodus: Gods and Kings should live by the message and ideas it wants to convey, in a similar manner to the purpose of the original story. But, like Noah, it gets weighed down by spectacle and the occasional, protracted, awkwardly shoe-horned in proselyting. There's no meat in the epic grandiosity and the message side feels forced. At least with the modern fantasy films we've become used too there's a more natural synergy between the epic scale and the message. It feels like this got made solely to one up the likes of The Ten Commandments and create the most epic film of all time. I honestly can't see any other reason why Scott or Bale are involved, and even then that's a poor reason. Shame this doesn't even result in a half decent film.

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