Exodus: Gods and Kings

Posted: December 15, 2014 in Movie Reviews

Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, John Turturro_Exodus: Gods and Kings

There aren’t too many stories that can be properly defined as “epic” beyond the one found in the book of Exodus. It’s a narrative dripping with dramatic potential: A man rises to leadership, tasked by God Himself to free hundreds of thousands in bondage, witnessing awe-inspiring phenomena and acts of God, only to have an entire sea part ways. It’s the potential Cecil B. DeMille saw when he made The Ten Commandments, and the same potential famed director Ridley Scott also saw when he took on the first retelling of the story in over 55 years. Now with state-of-the-art technology available at the film-maker’s fingertips, the Biblical account of Moses comes alive in an astounding way never seen before.

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Summary: (No spoilers)
Having grown up as princes of Egypt, the young brothers Moses and Ramses have unbreakable trust towards each other. But when Moses’ (Christian Bale——The Dark Knight, American Psycho) ancestry reveals him to be Hebrew—–the very same people who have been slaves to Egypt for 400 years—–the brothers’ bond is broken in two. Moses is banished to the desert by Ramses (Joel Edgerton—–Warrior), who is now pharaoh of Egypt.

9 years later, the shepherd Moses (now married and with a son) is visited by God in the form of a boy and commissioned to return to Egypt to demand the release of the Israelite slaves. But when Ramses refuses, God releases his powerful wrath on all of Egypt through a series of plagues—–hordes of flies and locusts descend; the Nile turns red with blood; boils afflict the nation; cattle drop dead, among other horrendous things. Finally Pharaoh relents, and Moses leads his people from bondage. But when Ramses’ mind is changed, Moses’ faith is put to incredible test as he witnesses God’s greatest doing yet.

Also starring: John Turturro, Sigourney Weaver, Ben Mendelsohn, Aaron Paul, and Ben Kingsley.

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With the horrendous disappointment of Noah earlier this year, my faith in this Biblical-based film was weakened exponentially. My disappointments with the film weren’t so much my dismay with the exercise of artistic license as much as several key components of the story that were altered and misconstrued beyond comprehensiveness, even if one merely views the story as fictional. Fortunately this time around, however, my fears and concerns have not entirely come to fruition.

Going in, I knew that liberties and alterations were to be expected. Why? Because every book, novel, play, stage production, biography, autobiography, comic book, scripture, and television adaptation that’s been made and ever will be made is going to make changes. This is just a fact of life. Even movie remakes change things. My concern was not whether Ridley Scott would alter the storyline, but rather if any of the key, principle pillars of its foundation would remain intact.

The short answer: very little is drastically changed, surprisingly. Despite being made by an atheist director, all of the core themes and elements are there. The story of a reluctant man called upon for a critical purpose, witnessing miraculous acts of the Almighty who parts the sea and causes the hardened hearts of kings to change, is present. Sure, there are some questionable aspects that are ripe for discussion and debate, including several omissions that probably would have better served the overall story had they been included.

Joel Edgerton_Exodus: Gods and Kings

For instance: Moses’ staff is nowhere to be found in the entire film. While not of utmost importance to the overall narrative, the staff was a symbol of command and authority in the Biblical account. In both the book of Exodus and The Ten Commandments, there is a scene in which Moses approaches Pharaoh in his throne room and demands the release of his people. When Pharaoh scoffs at the notion, Moses places his staff on the ground and all watch in awe at God’s power at work as it transforms into a snake, a scene that’s both memorable and fascinating. In Exodus: Gods and Kings, Moses approaches Ramses in the dead of night and presses his sword against his throat, a scene neither memorable nor fascinating. Not to mention original. But Ridley Scott for some non-apparent reason thought it would be better.

Also, the idea of portraying God as a young boy is certainly rather quizzical. During the iconic part of the story when Moses is tasked to free the slaves, God is accurately represented as a burning bush, but also a child. He pops up sporadically throughout the film and converses with Moses, reporting to him all of his shortcomings and offering his authoritative advice. This plot element, though artistic, seems a bit farfetched seeing as how no one prior to Christ’s birth ever really saw God. However, coming from a completely non-religious director, I could certainly see how the choice not to depict God as a booming, James Earl Jones-like voice may have been somewhat merited.

Rather than nit-pick at the rest of the film’s microscopic modifications, I’ll stop there and consider the rest as simple artistic license. While there certainly could be more to the story—–possibly a depiction of baby Moses’ rescue from the Nile, further elaboration on the actual creation of the ten commandments (perhaps something a bit more cinematically satisfying), and a bit of foreshadowing at the fascinating events that took place after Moses’ death—–the fundamentals are all there.

However, from a cinematic standpoint, the film astonishes. In true Gladiator  fashion, Ridley Scott wows on an impressive level. The minute attention to detail and realism is simply astounding. With picture-perfect visuals and absolute perfect employment of CGI, the film transcends above many others. The aerial shots of the Egyptian city of Memphis or the land of the slaves are mesmerizing. The montage of the plagues ravaging Egypt are a spectacle to behold and give you a complete sense of how horrific they truly were. And the film’s climax depicting the parting of the Red Sea where waves roll over each other to come crashing down is some of the best visual artistry seen this year.

_Exodus: Gods and Kings

In a nutshell:

Although it’s by no means a cinematic feat, and spectacular visuals alone do not make a film great, Exodus: Gods and Kings is a perfectly adequate film. Though some of the big-name actors don’t receive as much screen time as they perhaps should have (John Turturro and Sigourney Weaver are mere cameos), Bale and Edgerton are powerful and dynamic in their roles (though they take a back seat to Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner). And even though some of the narrative choices perhaps didn’t best serve the film as a whole, I can assuredly say that the film is worth checking out. . . even if it can’t compare to The Ten Commandments.

7 stars

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