Ridley Scott’s retelling of the Hebrew enslavement under and liberation from the Egyptian tyranny is visually striking but narratively lacking work that’s miraculous only on a rather superficial level.
The screenwriters’ (there are as many as four of them, which is almost never a good sign) pursuit of a more humanistic, reality-based take on the legend is legitimate but the result – a protracted mid-section about the new-found domestic life of Moses – proves oddly out-of-place and encumbering for the film’s momentum. When the focus returns to the main business of killing people, the spectacles are brought back via the hellish extravaganza of the 10 plagues. But the stimulation remains optical as the lavishly staged mass slaughter never quite attains the moral or intellectual imperative that makes a story compelling.
That said, this is an unquestionably handsome production top to bottom. The art direction is particular and tasteful, bringing scale and design together to recreate the imposing, symmetrical grandeur of a lost empire. The costumes are gorgeously rendered, matching the overall golden look of the film with a tone of earthy luxury. And although larger-than-life CG-ed imagery dominates many of the combat sequences, a sense of liveliness is often injected into the picture by the able, swift cinematography. Showcasing Scott’s mastery at orchestrating action scenes on gigantic canvas, all these elements align for the climatic parting – or closure – of the Red Sea, to evoke that trembly feeling of anticipation that’s not unlike a holy experience.
Biblical tales are supposed to be more about faith than plot, so it seems almost blasphemous to hold the movie’s incoherence and illogic against it. In this regard, the film’s biggest failing might be its unwillingness to give itself completely over to unreasoned spirituality, allowing unsuccessful attempts at dramatic tension to hold it in a somewhat awkward, neither-here-nor-there place.
Exodus: Gods and Kings | Directed by Ridley Scott (UK, USA, Spain 2014) with Christian Bale. Starts December 25