Let My People Go

1452exodus 02There’s a lot to like in Ridley Scott’s maligned ‘Exodus’

It’s a Biblical epic done the George Bernard Shaw way—throw the agnostics a bone, and suggest that religious zealots are a threat to an orderly functioning society. Exodus: Gods and Kings is a rich, gilded, crisply digitalized pagan spectacle in sharp 3D. Haters are blind to the humor, which was far thinner in Cecil B. DeMille’s Egypt. Here: a sculptor fretting at the model for Rameses’ proposed statue (“It is … tall”). Note the sportscasterly way the old Pharaoh (John Turturro!) asks Christian Bale’s Moses for a description of a battle that didn’t go as planned: “What happened out there?” A soothsayer (Ewen Bremner) has a plausible explanation of the plagues, in a scene deliberately built to make us recall the witch-expert in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Someone should have asked: “Who are you, so wise in the ways of science?”

No bulrushes—“it’s not even that good a story,” Moses says, when he learns it. Director Ridley Scott commences in mid-wartime planning against the Hittites, showing us the complex fraternal relation between Moses and his heir-apparent foster brother Ramses. Their argument lasts through exile and guerrilla warfare, up until the great waves at the Red Sea. Joel Edgerton’s Ramses comes out as a ruler in full, a victim of both history and an unthinkable and frightening entity. “I Am,” as he calls himself, is portrayed as a cross little boy called Malak—perhaps a swipe from the “Balok” episode of Star Trek?

Bale handles the role of Moses with satisfying, commanding style. Edgerton is an Australian actor who has already been in a lot of films, a minority of which were good. That’s the only reason the actor recalls Richard Burton; the resemblance increases after Pharaoh gets scars from Jehovah’s boil attack. His resolve seems brave in the face of the horror-plagues, up to the last and most vicious one. You’d think the girl-children got killed instead; this is one of the most female-free movies in a year that gave actresses so very little. It’s often not a sane movie, but the wit and opinion in it make something like Noah look as precooked as Veggie Tales.

EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS With Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton and John Turturro. Directed by Ridley Scott. Rated PG-13. 150 minutes.

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