Exodus: Gods and Kings
Mindful of the less-than-enamoured reviews doing the rounds, here’s one that sings the praises of Ridley Scott’s bash at a Biblical effort.
Exodus: Gods and Kings brings an age-old story of brotherly conflict to the silver screen – one man a humble leader of the oppressed, the other spoilt son of the oppressor. When a soothsayer predicts a battle in which “a leader will be saved and their saviour will go on to lead”, tension arises between Pharaoh’s born son, Ramses (an excellent Joel Edgerton, whose rise from indie darling of gritty Australian films to fully-fledged Hollywood leading man has been well-earned) and Pharaoh’s adopted favourite, Moses (the Batman of our age, Christian Bale).
So far, so Sunday School. But Sir Ridley, master of epic cinema (let’s finally forgive that he crushed the hopes and dreams of many an Alien fan with his limp Prometheus), is generally adept at combining widescreen evocations of exotic bygone worlds (from Ancient Rome in Gladiator to the age of the Pharaohs here) with intimate human drama.
Both leads are terrific, thanks to the actors’ tendency to perform their iconic roles like ordinary blokes facing big problems. Bale in particular delivers his lines without the theatrical British posturing symptomatic of traditional Biblical interpretations (like Charlton Heston’s seminal rendition of Moses and Russell Crowe’s melodrama in my worst film of the year, Noah).
Eschewing at least some of the nonsense inevitable in the rendering of such a grandiose story, both Bale and Edgerton imbue their brotherly connection with the conflict that arises when suddenly one’s status is upturned. The resulting depth of character, which sees them as individuals rather than stereotypes, saves Exodus from being yet another “battle in the desert” blockbuster.
The film is ridden with big-timers in wastefully small roles (notably Sigourney Weaver and Aaron Paul) although pleasingly Scott continues his fondness for Australian actors with Animal Kingdom’s sinister Ben Mendelsohn as the pouty viceroy whose complete lack of understanding of the loathed Israelites serves as a useful foil for Moses’ evident leadership potential.
Exteriors are shot in a strangely muted desert palate but inside the palaces, oh! The furnishings! The costumes! And when the trouble starts, any spoiler caused by prior knowledge of the plot merely adds to the anticipation of watching the various plagues and curses rain down. If you can handle the length of the journey, Exodus is a ripping good yarn.