The Bible is a rich resource of stories - stories to challenge and inspire - and this year has seen more than one of those brought to the big screen. Darren Aronofsky’s 'Noah' was a critical and box office success earlier in 2014, but can director Ridley Scott’s 'Exodus: Gods and Kings' follow in those footsteps?
First and foremost, Scott assumes that anyone watching 'Exodus' will be familiar with that particular chapter of The Good Book. This is emphasised by the lack of backstory given (despite the rather long text intro telling us that we’re in 1300 B.C Egypt) and the jumps between scenes that leave the audience to fill in the gaps themselves. Basically, it feels like an awful lot of the film was left on the cutting-room floor.
Christian Bale seems deliberately uncomfortable as Moses, while Australian Joel Edgerton’s Ramses camps it up a little, but is forgivable. Performances from the supporting cast are good, though Sigourney Weaver as Tuya is an absolute waste; she has maybe half a dozen lines and one expression. John Turtorro (‘Transformers’) seemed an odd choice for Seti I, while Indira Varma (‘Game of Thrones’) and Ben Kingsley were chosen perfectly. The breakout performance is by 11-year-old British actor Isaac Andrews as God’s messenger to Moses. Keep an eye on this one.
However, I can’t write a review of this film without mentioning the controversy surrounding the casting. White actors play almost all the main parts, while people of colour play slaves and foreigners. Now that I’ve seen the film, it is possible that Scott is hoping to make some kind of statement or commentary about current society; or maybe it was just a matter of finance, as Scott said. Thankfully, Scott doesn’t insist any of his cast put on accents.
Production designer Arthur Max and costume designer Janty Yates have done brilliant work on ‘Exodus.’ The sets and costumes are lavish and full of detail. The computer-generated landscapes, particularly the Egyptian cities, are fantastic. I could not fault the special effects at all. However, I felt the 3D superfluous and unnecessary – don’t pay extra for it. The score is decent and fits well to the action on screen, but is nothing special.
The computer-generated landscapes, particularly the Egyptian cities, are fantastic.
Scott has chosen to ground his telling of the plagues of Egypt in the possibilities of science, and the famed crossing of the Red Sea as less of a parting and more of a wading as the result of the prelude to a tsunami. As a result, the film equally questions the power of God as it supposedly demonstrates it. I rather liked this, as it leaves the answer up to the audience, and doesn't once step on anyone’s faith. It is respectful as it epic.
My one big criticism is that I was left wondering quite what the film was meant to be – blockbuster action, or an in-depth character study of one of history’s ubiquitous figures? Somehow it manages to weave the two together, but never quite reaches the potential I expected.
Overall, ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’ is a grand re-telling of a very old and familiar story. The beginning drags, and the ending is soft, but the spectacle of the middle makes the film worth seeing.