Film reviews: Exodus: God and Kings | Unbroken

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RIDLEY Scott’s new Gladiator revamp is heavy on the make-up, says Siobhan Synnot

Exodus: Gods And Kings (3D) (12A)

Director: Ridley Scott

Running time: 150 minutes

***

Things you didn’t know before the advent of Ridley Scott’s bombastic Old Testament tub-thumper.

1) Rather than a burning bush, God’s avatar on earth took the form of a tetchy child with an English accent.

2) The ten plagues were started by gigantic, yet surprisingly agile, man-eating crocodiles.

3) If you took a drink every time an Egyptian aristocrat was depicted as rather effete, you could be smashed long before anyone got to the Red Sea.

Exodus: Gods And Kings is the story of Moses made in Ridley Scott’s image: in other words, it’s basically Gladiator, with a lot more eyeliner. Both feature epic scenes of ancient derring-do, an ailing dad with a sociopath for a son, and demands that we root for a terse, brawny military hero.

You didn’t know Moses (Christian Bale, with a Batman-at-the-RSC dramatic whisper) was an army man? In Exodus, he is the adopted son of Pharaoh Seti (John Turturro), and a general first glimpsed slaughtering Hittites in a sweeping battle, and saving the hide of future God King Ramses (Joel Edgerton). Seti clearly rates Moses more highly than his spoilt, insecure heir, but once Seti dies and a disaffected aristocrat (Ben Mendelsohn) reveals Moses to be Hebrew by birth, he’s banished from Egypt. This isn’t enough for Ramses’ Tiger Mom (Sigourney Weaver). “I don’t want Moses exiled,” she paw-swipes. “I want him dead.”

Out in the wilderness, Moses accepts his true identity and starts a family with a nice Jewish lady (Spanish actress María Valverde) who kicks off the main business of their wedding night with an unromantic “proceed!” Later she worries when Moses suffers a blow to the head and starts having visions of a petulant boy God (Isaac Andrews), who is keen to bring on the ten plagues, including frogs, flies and new stars, the crocodiles, plus the fabled parting of the Red Sea.

It’s one of the script’s more interesting tweaks that God, his punishments and his miracles are all given alternative rational explanations – a head injury, a series of interconnected natural disasters and perhaps a tsunami – although since Ridley insists on taking us through the 3D spectacle of each and every one of the plagues, you might reflect that overuse of CGI is the real problem plaguing our epic movies.

It’s also ironic that Scott’s film is keen to ground these aspects of Moses’ story in reality, yet is happy to have a Welshman, an Australian and several Americans pretend to be Egyptians.

Much has already been made of this movie’s casting, but it is very peculiar that this week’s new Annie remake is comfortable updating with black stars, yet Exodus tells its middle eastern story using white leads coated in Fake Bake. More authentic actors, including the Palestinian treasure Hiam Abbass do turn up further down the cast list, but Exodus feels like a missed opportunity.

On the other hand, having to animate the film’s character psychologies seems a thankless task for almost everyone involved. Even the sibling rivalry between Moses and Ramses is sketchy and lacking in emotional depth – less a duel between princes of Egypt, more a bland of brothers.

On general release from Friday

Unbroken (15)

***

For her second movie as a director, Angelina Jolie has selected the extraordinary experiences of the 5,000m Olympic runner Louis Zamperini, and turned them into a marathon.

The real Zamperini had a busy Second World War, serving in the American air force, crash-landing in the Pacific, where he and the other survivors drifted for weeks, and then getting captured by the Japanese and interned in two brutal PoW camps. Any of these episodes would make an astonishing testament to resilience. The problem is that Jolie cannot bring herself to be selective, instead cramming all of these incidents into one movie. The result is a picture that never hits its stride.

That’s not to say that Unbroken is without merit. Jolie’s opening dogfight is excitingly staged with an inventive soundscape, there’s a terrific performance from Jack O’Connell as Zamperini and director of photography Roger Deakins musters some beautiful images of war and brutality. Jolie has surrounded herself with A-list talent, but although the script is credited to Joel and Ethan Coen, Richard LaGravenese and William Nicholson, from a biography by Laura Hillenbrand, it is repetitive, platitudinous and regrettably simplistic, especially when it reaches a cathartic scene of defiance which, if truthful to the circumstances and character, would be followed swiftly by a public execution.

And if all the picture’s detailed scenes of torture weren’t quite harrowing enough, Coldplay then rock up to sing us out of the cinema.

On general release from Friday

Big Eyes (12A)

***

After a string of big-budget gothic whimsies, Tim Burton returns to more intimate character drama for the first time since Ed Wood. Like Ed Wood, Big Eyes touches on artistic delusions; here it’s Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz), whose portraits of wide-eyed children were popular with the public, though not the critics, in the 1950s. In fact, he’s taking the credit for paintings by his wife Margaret (Amy Adams). It’s an intriguing true story, but Burton only toys with pre-feminist points and the tension between commercial and artistic success. Not bad, but a little paint-by-numbers.

On general release from Friday

Night At The Museum: Secret Of The Tomb (PG)

***

The return of Ben Stiller and the reanimated natural history exhibits, this time visiting the British Museum, where Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens is a highlight as an overconfident Sir Lancelot. An affectionate closer for the series – and two of its performers, Mickey Rooney and Robin Williams.

On general release

Belle And Sebastian (PG)

***

Film version of the 1960s French TV series about a six-year-old boy (Félix Bossuet) and his dog, who help the French Resistance fight the Nazis. Sweet, but increasingly preposterous.

Glasgow Film Theatre, Saturday until 30 December

Annie (PG)

**

Jamie Foxx stars as a billionaire who has his heart warmed by a plucky orphan (Quvenzhané Wallis). This remake updates the musical to include hip-hop stylings, Twitter updates and YouTube references, but any charm has been left behind in John Huston’s 1982 film. No-one seems comfortable singing, dancing or speaking, and the way Will Gluck’s direction drools over luxurious living, credit cards with no limits and bling suggests he’s failed to absorb the lesson of I Don’t Need Anything But You.

On general release from Friday

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