EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS
*** (out of 5)
December 12, 2014
Christian Bale as MOSES
Joel Edgerton as RAMSES
John Turturro as SETI
Aaron Paul as JOSHUA
Ben Mendelsohn as VICEROY HEGEP
Maria Valverde as ZIPPORAH
Sigourney Weaver as TUYA
Ben Kingsley as NUN
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Directed by: Ridley Scott
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
Whether it was planned or not, 2014 was the year that Hollywood found religion… at least as a source for script material. Not only did you have overt modern Christian tales heat up the box office with “Heaven Is for Real” and “God’s Not Dead,” but you also had the return of the Biblical epic. The year was book-ended with Darren Aronofsky’s flawed-but-fascinating “Noah,” and the holiday release of Ridley Scott’s “Exodus: Gods and Kings.”
Let’s set aside the fact that the release schedule has it’s holidays screwed up a bit (because you’d think that “Exodus” would more appropriately have come out around Passover). Let’s just see if the film works as a piece of entertainment.
The story should be pretty familiar. It’s based on a book, which I’m sure you’ve heard of. “Exodus: Gods and Kings” tells the story of the life of Moses (Christian Bale), who was abandoned as a child to be raised by Egyptian royalty. However, when he grows to manhood and discovers he is Hebrew by blood, Moses is exiled by his step-brother Ramses (Joel Edgerton). Soon, he reconnects with the Israelites and becomes their leader, demanding that the pharaoh let his people leave their bonds of slavery to find the promised land.
It’s been a while since I’ve brushed up on my Old Testament lessons from Sunday school, and I in no way consider myself a Biblical scholar. However, to my recollection, the events seen in “Exodus: Gods and Kings” seem to follow the basic story. All the big elements are there: the burning bush, the plagues on Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea.
It’s clear that Ridley Scott is trying to bring back the era of the historical epic, and when it comes to these scenes of spectacle and wonder, he is in top form. After all, this is the guy who gave us “Gladiator” and “Kingdom of Heaven.” He certainly knows how to do epic.
However, as fond as I am of Scott’s works, I do also recognize that his historical epics can be weighted down with drab dialogue and unfocused characters. This was the thing that made his version of “Robin Hood” so boring several years ago. So, for as many awesome scenes like what we saw in “Kingdom of Heaven” and “Gladiator,” we get just as many scenes featuring Scott’s “Robin Hood” style of characterization.
This comes about for two reasons. First, the hero of the film rests on the shoulders of Christian Bale, whom I’d never categorize as having a warm and fuzzy personality. He made a great Batman, sure, but that’s because he could deliver the silent somberness. I just felt no emotional connection to the character of Moses, particularly as we see him wandering the desert, getting married and having a son of his own.
This also comes about because while the Bible is filled with epic stories and characters of religious and historical significance, it’s not exactly a character-driven book. With the exception of a few choice cliches, the dialogue and moments between the verses have to be crafted entirely from nothing. This presents a challenge in bringing the characters to life on screen.
More over, there are some real challenges in humanizing Moses. After all, he was the messenger behind the death of the first born. He was at least inadvertently responsible for the horrible things that happened to the innocent Egyptians in the Israelites’ kerfuffle with the pharaoh. Scott does his best to navigate this sea of moral ambiguity featuring the slaughter of innocence, but it’s hard to do without stepping away from the page and seeing it as simple Old Testament wrath of God stories.
Still, “Exodus: Gods and Kings” is an interesting film. It presents a relatable version of the Biblical tale and only drags in the slower, character-building moments. The big event moments – which are the reasons to see the film in the theater – are still mighty impressive.