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Exodus: Gods and Kings

Year: 2014
Production Co: Scott Free/Chernin Entertainment
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Director: Ridley Scott
Producer: Peter Chernin/Ridley Scott
Writer: Adam Cooper/Bill Collage/Jeffrey Caine/Steven Zaillian
Cast: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Jon Turturro, Tara Fitzgerald, Aaron Paul, Ben Mendelsohn, Ben Kingsley, Maria Valverde, Sigourney Weaver, Ewen Bremner

The presence of Christian Bale in front of the camera and Ridley Scott behind it in Exodus: Gods and Kings might make think it's a prestige picture.

Five minutes in, you'll forget any expectations you had about Oscars (unless it's for production design) or geopolitical parallels across the ages – the 'too-white' cast scandal notwithstanding.

This is a rollicking, old-fashioned Biblical epic cut from the same cloth as Ben-Hur, Cleopatra and The Greatest Story Ever Told, only with eye-popping digital effects instead of ropey miniatures. All that's missing is a huge starburst on the marquee outside saying something like 'In New and Improved God-o-Vision!'

Some of the reason you might mistake it for a prestige picture is because everyone from Bale down to the guy who hooked the horses up to the chariots has taken it very seriously, and it's what the movie gets right. Bale's intensity is perfect for the role of soldier-turned-saviour Moses, and the shorn head and heavy eyeliner of Aussie Joel Edgerton joins him very ably in the grandstanding dialogue and larger-than-life characterisations.

Scott does the rest, by showing us the glory of the Egyptian capital and squalor of the Hebrew slave city Pithom in plenty of long aerial shots that showcase what his digital artists have done to great effect.

Moses (Christian Bale) and pharaoh-to-be Ramses (Joel Edgerton) are best friends who've been raised like brothers, to the extent the current Pharaoh Seti (John Turturro) loves and trusts Moses more than his own son.

Despite this, the pair prepare for Ramses' impending reign rule side by side, going into battle to slaughter the Hittite hordes camped in the mountains in a pre-emptive strike just in case they mean to invade.

The fighting gives Ramses a scare because a prophecy has said a leader-to-be will save his life. When Moses does so, it makes Ramses wonder if he has a rival to the throne.

But Moses himself gets even worse news. Sent to Pithom to investigate rumours of an uprising, he meets the snivelling, effeminate local governor (Ben Meldelsohn, as campy as Turturro is in his role), but it's the secret meeting with Hebrew leader Nun (Ben Kingsley) he likes even less.

The old man claims Moses is a Hebrew, hidden from the Egyptians and floated down the Nile river as his only chance of survival, insinuated into the royal court by his sister Miriam (Tara Fitzgerald, the third Aussie to round out the cast) and raised as one of them.

Even though he doesn't want to hear about it, it prickles Moses' sense that he's never quite belonged, and Ramses – now installed on the throne after the death of his father – cold-bloodedly tricks the truth out of Moses and Miriam and casts them out of the Kingdom.

Moses wanders the deserts of North Africa, finally finding his way to a small farming village where he stops to rest and recuperate, instead falling in love with local girl Sefora (María Valverde) and settling down to a simple life raising a family.

But it's while chasing some escaped sheep up the nearby Mt Herob in the rain that he has his infamous vision. With the burning bush in the background, what seems to be a young shepherd boy appears Moses him, telling him it's his destiny to free the Hebrew slaves for Egypt and take them to the promised land of Canaan.

The movie does a good job of depicting Moses as a man who doubts his sanity rather than a pious, blind follower, but it's his conscience that eventually drives him to give in. Leaving his wife and son against their wishes (and his own), he treks back to Pithom and starts organising the revolution he hopes will convince Ramses to let the slaves go.

If you ever went to Sunday School you know what happened next frogs, rivers of blood, boils, locusts, hailstones, the parting of the Red Sea and all. But you've never seen it depicted with as much gleeful grandiosity as this before, and you'll soon start to believe Scott's assertion about it being merely an entertainment and not a religious statement.

Though there are few downsides to such an old-school roller coaster of a movie, they're there. One is the depiction of God (or at least His messenger) as a precocious little kid. To be fair there's almost no way to depict the Almighty that doesn't make it seem slightly comical, but watching the kid try to be the pint-sized embodiment of the Lord's vengeance is a little bit painful.

There are also blink and you'll miss them roles by Breaking Bad's Aaron Paul and Sigourney Weaver. The former is first seen as a crazed slave who feels no pain being whipped and later shows up, barely recognisable, as one of Moses' followers during the Hebrew exodus. And Weaver, as Seti's wife, barely does anything but encourage hatred in one or two scenes.

Scott and his own army of generals and soldiers have done something Hollywood does all too rarely any more. They've collected and built hundreds of antique metal helmets, swords and chariots, trained dozens of horses and put good actors in the middle of it all doing shouty, weighty dialogue to show us a good time.

Guillermo Del Toro used to draw pictures of giant kaiju monsters battling Jaeger robots and he got the chance to see how cool it could look depicted realistically on screen.

If you ever read about the 12 plagues of Egypt or the waters of the red sea crashing back together, smiled to yourself in church or school and thought 'that'd look so cool in a movie', Exodus is for you. It's big, flashy and full of spectacle when it could have been stuffy, staid and too reverent to the source material.

If anything will get producers in Hollywood furiously searching through the Bible the way they currently search through comics, look no further.

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