Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)
Release Date: December 12th, 2014 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Ridley Scott Actors: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Aaron Paul, Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kingsley, Maria Valverde, John Turturro, Golshifteh Farahani
n the year 1300 BCE, at Pharaoh’s Palace in Memphis, Egypt, the king Seti (John Turturro), his son Ramses (Joel Edgerton), and his chief advisor General Moses (Christian Bale, who previously played Christ himself on TV’s “Mary, Mother of Jesus”) discuss the latest omen – discovered by the High Priestess (Indira Varma) after rummaging through swan entrails. She predicts that during the next battle, one leader will save another, and that the savior will rule the kingdom. Moses doesn’t believe in her prophecies, but the fearful Egyptians can’t shake the authority of divine signs.
When Moses journeys to Pithom to investigate construction progress by the Hebrew slaves, who have been building the empires of Egypt for 400 years, he uncovers the corruption of Hegep (Ben Mendelsohn), the viceroy. After an interrogation of elders to learn of the possibility of sedition and revolt, Moses is confronted by Nun (Ben Kingsley), who tells of Moses’ true Hebrew heritage – and the prophecy that he will one day lead the 400,000 slaves to freedom. This traitorous revelation, when revealed to Ramses, results in the exiling of the great general. Trekking in merciless isolation through the scorching desert, Moses eventually settles down in a village near the Tiran Straits, marries the beautiful Zipporah (Maria Valverde), and raises a child. Nine years later, while journeying up a sacred mountain, he’s knocked unconscious during a mudslide. Envisioning a burning bush and an eerie apparition, he’s inspired to return to his people and negotiate their release.
Like “Hercules” (2014) earlier this year, “Exodus: Gods and Kings” attempts to tell a famous tale with a rarely experimented, distinct realism, even though the most popular interpretations are mythical. Every miraculous event is steeped in coincidence and pragmatic explanations to the point that a specific religion (but not faith) is nearly eliminated. The problem is that this story in particular is inextricably linked to biblical concepts and belief in God. The material is certainly cinematic, but Moses’ achievements have been distorted into the basis of a legend; there isn’t even much fantasy left over. God is a trauma-induced hallucination and plagues are phenomena of nature gone horribly awry. Meanwhile, the film covers too many ideas, even dipping into the Ten Commandments with such abruptness that it assumes every viewer is abundantly familiar with the scriptures.
Director Ridley Scott is no stranger to the epic, boasting a filmography that includes “1492: The Conquest of Paradise,” “Gladiator,” “Kingdom of Heaven,” and “Robin Hood.” Once again, he masters the use of grand music and operatic voices, immense battle scenes (with what appears to be thousands of extras), chariot stunts to contest those seen in “Ben-Hur,” and glorious widescreen cinematographic compositions. Everything in the film is of a massive scale, with the CG-orchestrated swarms of crocodiles, frogs, flies, and locusts proving the most fun. But the execution lacks power, largely due to the removal of a god that should have literally intervened with oppression, and the casting of overly recognizable actors in roles that trade off expressions that could have come from “Aguirre, the Wrath of God.” In turning Moses into an action hero on a colossal adventure, some moments and imagery are borderline comical (a baby mummy is notably odd). But despite the questionable approach to adaptation and representation, the Red Sea climax is still exhilarating, even though it’s not portrayed with the classic parting that audiences will likely anticipate.
– Mike Massie