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Exodus Gods and Kings — film review
From the Financial Times of Tue, 23 Dec 2014 15:59:18 GMT
Exodus: Gods and Kings

Christian Bale stars as Moses

The title is a syntax-free zone. An actor named Christian stars as ancient history’s best-known Jew. The Egyptian deserts and shores sometimes resemble Egypt, at others Bournemouth beach on a cloudy day. The Red Sea is a centre-parted mega-puddle one moment, the next a rearing tsunami. Incongruity, inconsistency and bizarre juxtaposition reign in Exodus Gods and Kings. But what can a director do when he attempts the impossible?

Ridley Scott’s film is probably the best answer that could be made to Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments. When a Biblical film has everything, like that 1956 Hollywood-on-the-Nile talent banquet, including apocalyptic tableaux, breath-catching sets and a cast so stellar that an eye blink would rob you of Vincent Price and Edward G. Robinson, what is left to say or do?

Modernist revisionism is the best, or only, option. For DeMille’s billion-dollar-looking Bible worship substitute Scott’s digitised grandeur spiced with contrarinesses. This Egypt is cloudy, often stormy. Memphis, the expanding capital, is a building site, tremendous yet dishevelled. (Half-finished statues, mountains of rubble, scaffolding like artist’s cross-hatching.) For Charlton Heston, a Michelangelo demigod, read Christian Bale, a scrapper with a sandpaper-rasp baritone and insomnia-haunted eyes. I like this Moses: he seems human. I like too Australian actor Joel Edgerton as Rameses. A convict-like shaven dome and smeary baby features replace Yul Brynner’s onyx-browed majesty. Edgerton’s Pharaoh is part bumptious monarch, part (we suspect) barely reclaimed sociopath.

Then there is “God” Himself: a treble-voiced boy, stroppy but stern, who stands at the appointed venues — burning bush, top of Mount Sinai – and tells Moses what’s going down liberation-of-Israelites-wise. Exodus Gods and Kings is not quite as cuckoo/inspired in its re-constructivism as Darren Aronofsky’s Noah . But there is enough to satisfy agnostics who like to see a fresh boot aimed, now and again, at fundamentalism’s fundament. At the end it is still possible to believe that God exists, that frogs can overrun civilisation — terrifically depicted plagues — and that seas can schism. But you can also believe that nature does weird things; so does nurture; and so do human beings quirky and counter-rational enough to believe in deities.




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