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Exodus: Gods and Kings (3D)


Stars: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Ben Kingsley, Sigourney Weaver, John Turturro, Ben Mendelsohn, Maria Valverde, Golshifteh Farahani, Indira Varma, Hiam Abbass

Director: Ridley Scott

You have to admire Ridley Scott (or despair at his foolhardiness) for his addled reinvention of the Old Testament story of Moses and his escape from Egypt after a series of deadly plagues ravage the country. It takes a brave man to take on the bravura legend The Ten Commandments, served up in classic over-the-top style by Cecil B DeMille in 1956.

If there’s one Commandment about Exodus: Gods and Kings that’s really worth obeying, it’s: Wait until the inevitable DVD of the film emerges and then make worthwhile use of the fast-forward control. That way you can enjoy the spectacle – and there’s plenty, from screen-filling action fortunately catalysed by average 3D filming, to genuinely impressive special effects-generated Biblical plagues that compensate in a minor manner for the tedium that fills in the ‘thespian’ gaps between them.

Since the Old Testament is out of copyright, it’s hard to figure out why Scott needed no fewer than four credited writers to churn out the soggy screenplay which opens with miscast Moses – played with a commendably straight face by Christian Bale – whose best friend is Pharaoh’s son Joel Edgerton, while his aging father John Turturro prefers Bale to his offspring. Until, that is, Moses’ Jewish origins are exposed and he ends up living anonymously in a village where he marries and has a son. Until, that is, he meets the Burning Bush and God (bizarrely played as a snarky 10-year-old boy)…

After which we have well-rendered and impressive Plagues (the frogs, in particular, deserve a monster movie of their own) before Moses leads his people to the Red Sea and beyond.

Given Scott’s access to current special effects magic that should effortlessly out-do DeMille in every frame, the parting of the Red Sea is a particular disappointment. Moses plunges his sword into the Red Sea and it disappears under the water. The next morning finds the sea level has amazingly gone down, leaving the hilt of his sword above the water. Regrettably I came to the conclusion that Moses had managed to put his sword through a plug on the seabed, this enabling the water to drain away…

Miscasting of many of key roles hardly helps either. Bale does his best but that’s not the same as a convincing portrayal, Turturro, Edgerton, Ben Mendelsohn seem, equally ill at ease, Ben Kingsley’s portrait of an elderly
Jewish leader is typical luvvie, while wasted Sigourney Weaver must have prayed for an invading alien to get her out of the show.

What you get is a series of splendid spectacular scenes interspersed with deeply dull drama, well photographed by Dariusz Wolski and saturated with Alberto Iglesias’ bombastic score.

(Personally, I’d have been happier to sit through Scott’s celebrated bread TV advertisement yet again, if for nothing else than its short running time: Exodus: Gods and Kings seemed to run for ever).

Alan Frank

UK/USA/Spain 2014. UK Distributor: Fox. Colour.
150 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 2, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 22 Dec 2014