Wednesday, 3 December 2014


20th Century Fox Films

You don't have to be a devout Christian to know the story of Moses, it's as old as, well, the Bible. Anyone who attended Sunday school or has had a passing glance at 'the good book' knows the basics of how it all went down in ancient Egypt, 1300 BCE or thereabouts.

Born a Hebrew but abandoned in a weave basket to the River Nile following a pharaoh's decree that all first born Hebrew boys be slaughtered, Moses was adopted by the pharaoh's court and raised as the future ruler's cousin. But when his ancestry was revealed, he was cast out and so began his odyssey which, with a little help from a higher power, saw him return to the city of Memphis to free the Israelites after 400 years of slavery.

Of course, there's the more visceral elements of the Old Testament story -- the Nile awash with blood, plagues of toads and locusts, and the parting of the Red Sea -- which enthrall young Sunday schoolers and no doubt piqued director Ridley Scott's interest (along with his team of CGI artists), and justified his decision to present the film in 3D.

The recreation of ancient Egypt, like those of Rome in Gladiator (2000), were perhaps also enticing; familiar historical ground for Scott to find his footing after the less-than-stellar modern and future-set outings, The Counselor (2013) and Prometheus (2012).

And there's no denying that the broad strokes and majesty of Exodus: Gods and Kings is impressive (kudos to cinematographer Dariusz Wolski). But where the film falters is in its smaller, human moments; whether that be the racially insensitive casting (yes, it matters), or the subsequent under-utilization of said cast (Sigourney Weaver and Aaron Paul have thankless roles; and the less said about Ben Mendelsohn's 'Carry On' viceroy the better).

There's also the failure to muster much empathy for either main protagonist. Both Christian Bale, as Moses, and Joel Edgerton, as Rhamses, give solid performances but we don't much care about the man who may or may not be speaking to God (who appears to the non-believer in the guise of petulant 10-year-old boy), nor the somewhat conflicted pharaoh who builds his empire on a foundation of brutal slavery.

That said, Bale's hero is far more agreeable than was Russell Crowe's maniacal titular Noah in the other Biblical epic of 2014, directed by Darren Aronofsky. And Scott's film, for all its modern wizardry is far more traditional and classic; hewing more closely to the Biblical epic template of old Hollywood and to its source material (there are no rock Transformers to be found in ancient Egypt).

But at 150-minutes, Scott and his (four-man) writing team take far too long to tell this familiar tale; intermittently impressing but perhaps ultimately converting very few.

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