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Exodus: Gods and Kings

Copyright: 20th Century Fox.

Ridley Scott is in danger of losing the plot, his last film The Counsellor was extraordinarily dire and his recent comments about why he didn’t cast ethnically accurate actors is not only stupid, but actually racist. So it is surprising that Exodus: Gods and Kings manages to be such a good film. 

Like with Darren Aronofsky’s Noah Scott tells a story we all know and doesn’t hold back on the gory old testament details. Unlike Noah however, Exodus: Gods and Kings doesn’t suffer from a lack of good acting: both Edgerton and Bale are very strong, Edgerton especially who delivers a well judged performance as Ramses, neither too camp nor too underplayed – although his occasional slip into South African brings back horrid memories of Cameron Diaz in The Counsellor. There are also great turns from John Turturro and Ben Mendehlson both enjoying their english accents very much.

The real key to Exodus’s success however is how tightly it is directed, no image seems surplus to requirement no scene too long; the whole thing rollocks along and great pace, at no point are we left counting down the moments until the parting of the red seas.

Exodus isn’t too clever either, it isn’t impenetrable like Prometheus was at times, and it doesn’t reach for hundreds of ideas and miss like I felt Noah did. Its simple, God is a spoilt child figuring out how to tend to his sheep, Moses is a sceptic who understands God isn’t perfect. Scott sets out his agenda and hits his marks. There is little of Blade Runner’s ambiguity.

However, as enjoyable as Exodus is, after a while you are left with a sinking feeling that the great man has revealed a side to his filmmaking that might be irreparable. Race and sex don’t figure in Scott’s mind: yes he casts Sigourney Weaver but anyone thinking that her character actually matters is quickly left wanting. Moreover Scott’s racial politics are really dodgy, women are desirable persians, and villains and servants are black, Edgerton does his best to prove his worth, but aside from Bale holding the fort there is no way you can say either prove themselves entirely worthy. Its an odd world we live in where Scott turns out to be less racially sensitive than Mel Gibson, Apocalypto was not only in ancient Mayan but it featured no known actors and proved hugely successful at the box office. It’s unfair to compare this to Gibson’s masterpiece, but the issues are relevant.

Scott’s casting decisions will weigh heavy on the mind, as will his lack of heart. It took Exodus for me to realise how good Gladiator is in terms of getting an audience to love its central character, moments of love and sadness really only come with Edgerton, Bale’s Moses is an isolated hard character. His scenes with his family work, but they don’t inspire.

Exodus is hugely enjoyable, but in hindsight it does leave a bad taste. It’s visually stunning sometimes awe-inspiring and very gripping, but it does makes you feel slightly uncomfortable.