Penny Woolcock’s gripping “Exodus” is a provocative, searingly political updating of the Old Testament story, with the Pharaoh as a right-wing politician and Moses as a terrorist. Shot in widescreen, with an eye-popping vision of dystopia that rivals Alfonso Cuaron’s “Children of Men,” it shows a Promised Land where the oppressed are brutalized and become brutal, and terrible injustice leads to horrific terrorism. Slated for British hardtops and Channel 4 broadcast later this year, it could be manna in the hands of savvy distribs offshore.
In the not-so-distant future, the Promised Land is ruled by fascist Pharoah Mann (Bernard Hill). His solution for safety and prosperity is to deport unwanted elements of society — the long-term unemployed, ethnic minorities, refugees, petty criminals, sexual deviants and substance abusers — to Dreamland, a labyrinthine shantytown surrounded by fences and armed guards.
While Pharoah plots targeted assassinations and other antiterror schemes, wife Batya (Ger Ryan) finds an abandoned infant on the beach and raises him as their child.
Twenty years later, Mosees (Daniel Percival), visiting Dreamland on a guided tour, accidentally kills a guard who’s attacked Zipporah (Clare-Hope Ashitey), Pharoah’s lissome maid. Trapped inside, Moses is introduced to his birth mother and learns to negotiate Dreamland’s warring sectors.
Moses and Zipporah marry and have a child of their own. When soldiers kill Zipporah’s father, Jethro (Delroy Moore), Moses leads a protest. Speaking from Jethro’s giant funeral pyre (a 25-meter-high waste sculpture created by artist Anthony Gormley), Moses challenges Pharoah to tear down the fence while a peaceful solution is still possible. When Pharoah refuses, Moses leads a guerrilla war to liberate Dreamland’s inhabitants. Updated plagues visited upon Pharoah include the poisoning of the sea, a computer virus, a lethal human virus and the bombing of a large elementary school.
Pic stresses the human costs of fighting fire with fire, and the hypocrisy of saying “God told me to.” Powerful ending strikes absolutely the right note.
Shot on location in Margate, an English coastal town, the pic used locals in all aspects of the production. The fine ensemble cast combines professional thesps and first-timers.
Kudos to DOP Jakob Ihre, whose moving camera and kinetic compositions make pic an exciting, intimate epic; to production designer Christina Moore for her dystopic vision; and costume designer Suzanne Cave, for her colorful, eclectic creations. Composer Malcolm Lindsay’s lush score beautifully supports the action.