EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS (2014)

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{ Director: Ridley Scott; Screenwriter: Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, Jeffrey Caine, Steve Zaillian; Starring: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Aaron Paul, John Turturro, Ben Mendelsohn, Maria Valverde, Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kingsley; Running time: 150 minutes; Certification: 12A }

Ridley Scott’s output over the last few years has been hit and miss, to say the least.  Prometheus failed to enamour most despite actually being rather interesting and visceral, Robin Hood was at times admirable but largely lacklustre, and masterpieces like Alien, Blade Runner and Gladiator still do little to ease the pain of enduring something as dreadful as The Counselor.  So ExodusScott’s first sword and sandal venture since Kingdom Of Heaven a decade ago, despite being on the receiving end of a number of lukewarm reviews, serves as something of a silver lining.  While it’s a film with some clear flaws, it’s much better than what you’ve probably read.

There’s probably an interesting double-bill to found here, with this and Darren Aronofsky’s Noah.  Both films take a biblical passage about a burdened man speaking to God and present it on a grand scale with A-list stars, each going a little bit mad along the way.  Yet where Noah, with its rock monsters, follows the more eccentric and somewhat outlandish route, Exodus – in a move which perhaps proves to be the film’s saviour – tends to remain more within the confines of realism, and the two would compliment each other well.  That’s realism in the barest sense of the word, of course; there is a guy hallucinating a child who may be a messenger or God himself, and an ocean which miraculously drains then refills, and plagues and curses.  There’s a strong fantasy element, but over the course of two and a half hours, it always seems to be more interested in exploring the real things like morality, vengeance, the effects of power and the inner workings of a man suddenly exiled from his comfortable life.  Whether it explores them effectively or not is entirely subjective, but at least it’s trying.

The way the film is physically constructed is also impressive, with the grand, sweeping shots of Egypt offset by really intimate and personal indoor camerawork in beautifully constructed sets.  Ridley Scott is a clever director, and for all of the problems his films have had lately, they rarely (if ever) spawn from the work he’s doing   He seems to have this effortless way of telling the audience so much from a single shot, and he still knows how to direct the hell out of a battle sequence… Although in this instance they are hindered somewhat by the certificate, and hence lack of a visceral edge that we would have seen in Gladiator, or even Robin Hood.

Where the film begins to crumble a little is when Moses starts talking to ‘God’ around the second act and the plagues begin to arrive – that’s where the structure becomes somewhat skewed.  It appears to be trying to fit so much story into as few minutes as possible, which, given the lengthy running time, audiences will probably welcome, but it does pose certain narrative issues.  For example, when Moses has a huge change of heart to up and leave his family and carry out a mission he could well have simply hallucinated, we’re not really informed as to what convinced him so thoroughly.  The basic facts are there, but we don’t understand the way he’s thinking, his motivation on a personal level.  From that moment until the end, it’s all a bit loosey goosey with it’s storytelling.

It’s unlikely you’ll walk out feeling a changed person, but you should walk out with a general satisfaction.  Exodus works because it’s an entertaining movie.  It could be dissected and torn like many critics have enjoyed doing, but that just seems a bit pointless.  It does some interesting things and it does some silly things, but it’s always epic in stature with plenty of action, drama and romance, all played out by a terrific cast led by the dynamic and ever brilliant Christian Bale.  For a night out at the movies, you could do a lot worse.

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