Review by Jane Freebury
For the second time this year, a blockbuster about the miraculous deeds of a man ‘chosen by god’ has arrived on screen, courtesy of armies of CGI specialists. Darren Aronofsky brought us Russell Crowe in grizzled beard as Noah, the man who saved the world in a boat. Now Ridley Scott, never one to shirk a challenge, brings us Christian Bale as Moses who leads a half million Hebrew slaves out of Egypt.
Despite a penchant for expansive subjects that could go badly wrong, Scott is impossible to ignore. The veteran British director has made some of the really big, defining films of our time—Blade Runner, Alien, Thelma and Louise and Gladiator. Critical and commercial successes all. It’s a filmography that commands respect, even though there are turkeys in there, perhaps a little more frequent of late.
It’s not just that some of Scott’s cinema is boldly conceived and thoroughly immersive, it’s that he doesn’t baulk at having a go at the seminal stories, the meta narratives and the grand themes. And his film are always good-looking. He wasn’t once in advertising for nothing. Of all the hubristic filmmakers who go high and wide, he’s the one I’d choose to see part the waters of the Red Sea or bring the tablet down the mount.
Adopted into the Egyptian royal family as a foundling from the bullrushes, Moses has grown up to become a favourite of the aging pharaoh (John Turturro) who prefers him as his successor over his own son (Edgerton). With head shaven, a transformed Joel Edgerton makes his brutal, indolent Rameses, Moses’ adoptive brother, an impressive performance.
After the revelation of his identity and his banishment, Moses returns to Egypt and eventually turns the people against their new pharaoh Rameses II. If the decent but spare script didn’t build a very strong case for the leadership qualities in Moses that the old pharaoh so admired, then the scenes of Moses organising Hebrew sedition and the subsequent flight out of Egypt do.
As the androgynous and corrupt viceroy who sidles up to the pharaoh’s ear, Ben Mendelsohn is another good casting choice. Sigourney Weaver is seen very briefly as a vengeful queen mother, but it is a cipher role only. And Bale does what we would expect Bale to do.
Taking ‘rest of the world’ into account, Exodus wouldn’t have made a silly business case. Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ did astonishing business in 2004, and Noah earlier this year. A $200 million project like Exodus might be a less of a risky venture than it might appear at first. Wiley old Ridley Scott has delivered this time. Exodus: Gods and Kings is high, wide and handsome with some terrific if controversial casting choices, well deployed CGI and excellent action.
In a capsule: Hubristic choice of subject, and fraught with controversial casting choices, but it delivers with some curious characters, excellent action and a sea of spectacle.