Sunday, December 14, 2014

Review: Exodus: Gods and Kings

Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox.
So, here's the thing: Ridley Scott's massively expensive looking "Exodus: Gods and Kings" is not quite the catastrophe you might have heard it was. I'm not saying I'd wholeheartedly endorse - nor even necessarily recommend it, for that matter - but as far as biblical epics go, it has its moments.

Most of those moments tend to be CGI enhanced, which may not come as a surprise. Scott and company have taken great pains to bring to the screen all of the best remembered passages from the book of Exodus and Moses' story, although the 10 Commandments get a little shorted and I don't recall a plague of alligators.

Christian Bale gives a committed performance as Moses, an Egyptian prince turned leader of the Jews who brings the chosen people away from the clutches of Ramses (Joel Edgerton) and on to the promised land. The script portrays Moses in the manner you might expect of a hero in our age of conflicted male leads. In other words, it takes some convincing for him to feel the Jews' plight and God - who, in one of the filmmakers' stranger choices, is portrayed as a grumpy young boy who materializes near burning bushes and the like - believes that he marches to the beat of his own drum. In other words, he can be difficult.

The supporting cast - and it's a vast one - does what it can, but they are mostly there for the sake of star power, rather than fully developed characters. Other than Bale and Edgerton, we have John Turturro (yes, John Turturro!) as King Seti in what has to be the nuttiest biblical epic casting since Harvey Keitel played Judas. There's also Sigourney Weaver as the untrustworthy Tuya, Ben Kingsley as a Jewish leader, a blink-and-you-almost-miss-him Aaron Paul as a slave, Ben Mendelsohn as a sinister viceroy and Hiam Abbass as Bithia.

The sets are pretty elaborate and, as I'd mentioned, the special effects are impressive, especially Moses' parting of the Red Sea and some of the various plagues (despite that inclusion of alligators).

But what ultimately holds the film back a bit is the script. I'm sure there will be those who disagree with my assessment, arguing that the film follows the story of Moses pretty closely to the one in The Bible (ahem! alligators!), but to make a film successful, there's got to be something more than just precise interpretation. Had the film's characters been a little more developed, it would have made all the awe and sturm and drang onscreen more effective.

"Exodus" is not a bad film - it looks great even if it's dead seriousness could have use a little alleviation. At least, in Cecil B. DeMille's "The Ten Commandments," we had Anne Baxter as Nefretiri, sounding as if she just stepped off a subway in the Bronx ("Hey Mo-ses!").

And the film pales in comparison to Darren Aronofsky's "Noah," released earlier this year, which is one of the most insane biblical epics ever made and, at times, an outright horror movie with the lead playing both hero and villain. "Exodus" could have used a little bit of that mad vision, but as a sweeping historical epic, it's amusing enough.

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