Exodus: Gods and Kings
Review by Daniel Rester
Landing somewhere between faithful adaptation and creative interpretation, Exodus: Gods and Kings will likely piss off some viewers and highly please others. The film — directed by Ridley Scott and dedicated to his late brother Tony — isn’t as strange as Darren Aronofsky’s controversial Noah from earlier this year. Yet both movies involve some interesting risks and craftsmanship from big-name directors. In this way, to me, the two films are admirable if not fully successful.
Exodus tells the timeless story of Moses (Christian Bale) and Rhamses (Joel Edgerton). Scott’s film doesn’t start at the usual place of Moses in the basket though, instead thrusting us into Moses and Rhamses’ conflict with the Hittites in 1300 B.C. After Moses saves Rhamses in battle, both men are troubled due to a recent prophecy. Moses is eventually revealed to be a Hebrew and is exiled from Egypt – a decision Rhamses makes instead of killing his cousin.
While on his journey, Moses gets married to Zipporah (Maria Valverde) and they have a child. Nine years later Moses finds God and is told he must free the Herbrew slaves. This sends him back to Egypt, the plagues come, the Red Sea parts, and so on.
A lot of the negativity surrounding Exodus has been with the casting choices, with most of the parts filled by white British, American, and Australian actors wearing bronze makeup. While this whitewashing casting is a bit ridiculous in this day and age, that is just one element of the film and shouldn’t be the entire focus like it is for some people going in. The acting itself is mostly fine, though supporting players like Ben Kingsley (as Nun), Aaron Paul (as Joshua), Sigourney Weaver (as Tuya), and John Turturro (as Seti I) are barely used. My big issue when looking at the film as its own thing is that all of these characters (and more) only service the story and never have any depth or emotion added. Why go through the trouble to get a great actor like Kingsley if he is just going to have his talents wasted?
The lack of character development is more the script’s fault though, which was penned by four writers – including top-notch writer Steven Zaillian. The screenplay also contains some occasionally clunky dialogue and little humor; it tries to get laughs from Ewen Bremner (who has his British accent) as a medicine advisor of sorts, but this fails miserably. There is also an intriguing yet distracting decision on how God is represented in the film, which will likely stir a lot of conversations. The plagues and parting of the sea are also given more natural explanations than some may desire, with the Red Sea moment seeming more like a regular tsunami than Moses breaking the waters.
What the screenwriters and director Scott mostly get right is the strength of the story and relationship between Moses and Rhamses. Both men are given inner conflicts that work, with their decision-making made more interesting by this. Bale is a strong lead, though probably too intense and over-the-top as Moses, but it’s Edgerton who really shined for me. The actor could have easily given us a one-note portrayal of Rhamses as a villain, but he instead paints him with nuance and complexity – a harsh ruler who has pain of his own. Valverde is quite lovely as Zipporah, and Ben Mendelsohn has a few good moments as Hegep (a general for Rhamses). I just wish more of the actors had richer characters and standout moments like these four actors did.
As expected from Scott, Exodus looks great. The production design and costumes are first-rate and the cinematography by Dariusz Wolski gives us a lot of wide shots and swooping camera angles. The action is also exciting and epic throughout, though the plague scenes outshine the climactic Red Sea scene. Alberto Iglesias’ music score is sometimes overbearing, but it has a grand and old-fashioned feel that lends itself well to the film. All of these pieces click together to craft a fully-functioning epic on the visual side. Plus we get some pretty awesome CGI alligators as a bonus to the big battles. No film can be all bad with giant reptiles wreaking havoc on small boats, right? I’ll let you judge.
While Exodus isn’t a hollow or soulless blockbuster like, say, Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014), I do wish it had more emotional resonance when all was said and done. Scott’s masterful historical epic is still Gladiator (2000), but it is still a treat to watch the director play around in that sort of genre all these years later. Exodus is far from flawless, but it does contain a visual feast (with some pretty good 3D) and a classic story that provide for some large-scope entertainment.
Score: 3 out of 4 stars (Grade Equivalent for Me: B).
MPAA Rating: R (for violence including battle sequences and intense images).
Runtime: 2 hours and 30 minutes.
U.S. Release Date: December 12th, 2014.