MOVIE REVIEW: EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS / CERT: 12A / DIRECTOR: RIDLEY SCOTT / SCREENPLAY: VARIOUS / STARRING: CHRISTIAN BALE, JOEL EDGERTON, AARON PAUL, BEN KINGSLEY, SIGOURNEY WEAVER / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Nothing quite gets so much attention as a biblical story, so when it comes to religion in film it can truly be a troublesome road for filmmakers to encroach on. However, it must be said that, no matter your faith, religious texts boast tales befitting of the big screen. It is little wonder that so many directors have decided to utilize so many of these stories for their pictures and now it is the turn of Ridley Scott to bring another enduring story to the big screen. The results, much like 2014’s other monumental biblical epic Noah, are sometimes stirring but not always consistent. Exodus: Gods and Kings tells the story of Moses (Bale), and while it delivers nothing that Cecil B. DeMille’s lingering version of the story, The Ten Commandments, did not already display, Scott certainly has the eye for a biblical epic.
The casting call has drawn huge controversy (with the Hollywood stars billing taking credence over racial authenticity), as has the film’s inconsistencies with the text. This has inevitably led to the film failing in most people’s eyes and led to Exodus being less of an event than it should have been (it flopped at the box office). That being said, the film’s problems are not so much its details as the pace, because at 150 minutes in length, Scott has struggled in keeping things moving steady and sure. For every spectacular shot (and there are plenty), there is a slow stretch to follow, which jars the momentum. Scott seems to get caught up in presenting the story rather than enthralling us in it. And the first hour in particular drags its feet at many points. However, things inevitably pick up in hour 2 as Moses discovers his heritage, discovers faith, and comes into confrontation with Ramses (Edgerton) over freeing his people. The plague sequences stand out and are genuinely gruesome, and the story plays to Scott’s strengths in these moments, even if the delivery may divide many people.
Christian Bale leaves the film better than anyone, offering a reasonably grounded performance, compared to a slightly more over the top Joel Edgerton. Although these two are the only ones really given characters, as the rest of the cast generally drift along with the beats of the story. Aaron Paul generally gets lashed/hides behind a bush for the film’s duration, Ben Kingsley is the respectable wise slave, Sigourney Weaver is there one minute, gone the next, and everyone else is demoted to wife of so and so, that officer or that one with the beard. It is a shame that such a cast, if they had to be here, were not actually used to all that much effect. Still, despite the slightly underwhelming parting of the seas in the finale, you cannot say the film is lacking almighty entertainment and moments of genuine wonder or human emotion.
The film closes with the words, “For my brother, Tony”, in response to the tragic suicide of Tony Scott, so perhaps Scott’s religious epic, for all its faults, is so all over the place because it is a reaction as opposed to an adaptation. This is not so much the story of Moses, as the story of a man’s meeting with god and witnessing his wrath and power. In the end this is an epically scaled film that has its moments and contrariwise its problems, but Scott has made the film with personal motivations in mind and heart, so only he knows how successful he has been. We are merely here to witness the results, which, for what it’s worth, are mostly fine and sometimes better than expected, if overlong and uneven.
Expected Rating: 6 out of 10
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