Sunday, December 14, 2014

Film Review: Exodus:Gods and Kings


"Director Ridley Scott tackles one of the most ambitious films of 2014 but just barely hits the mark."

Exodus: Gods and Kings opens with brother's Moses & Ramses deliberating over an impending attack from The Hitties. I thought that this offered a nice backdrop to the film since there are very few people making biblically historical epics anymore. Director  Ridley Scott seems to be one most poised and  likely to keep doing it. The fictional story of Gladiator is obviously the most celebrated of these epic's, but he’s made others that are, if nothing else, sweeping and full of grandeur if not necessarily the most engaging in story. His 2005 film Kingdom of Heaven about the Crusades was plagued by lots and lots of cuts and the later-released director’s cut, which is much longer, was hailed as something of a forgotten masterpiece. I believe that his newest film Exodus: Gods and Kings has fallen victim to the same kind of truncating. Given how big Scott is on director’s cuts, maybe the studios ought to just let him release these movies into theaters. 
As mentioned before Exodus: Gods and Kings is certainly an ambitious film, attempting to cover much of the incredibly lengthy book from the Old Testament about Moses, a Prince of Egypt who fled  when it’s discovered he had  committed murder. The Hebrew  people are indentured to the Egyptians who use them as slave labor, all the way through to the creation of The Ten Commandments. Naturally, a book like Exodus  is going to take up a lot of time, and it was initially reported that the film was well over 3 hours. However, it was  cut down to a manageable but brisk 2.5 hours and, as a result, it feels a lot of the time like we’re watching an edited highlights reel of the story, forsaking character development moments and truth for the sake of plot and action.

In Exodus: Gods and Kings Christian Bale portrays Moses, who, when the film starts (following a few screens of text to tell us context), is a general in the Pharaoh (John Turturro)’s army along with his cousin Rhamses (Joel Edgerton), the heir to the throne. There is a prophecy given by an Egyptian Priestess that in the coming battle, one of the princes will save the other one, and the one who does the saving will become the new ruler. So naturally, Rhamses wants Moses nowhere near him, and of course Moses saves him right away in the midst of battle. Moses then travels to check on a nearby city where the Hebrew slaves have started to revolt. It’s there he learns from an elder slave named Nun (Ben Kingsley) that Moses is actually a Hebrew himself and destined to free his people. He’s naturally dismissive of this idea, but word reaches Rhamses and Moses is exiled to the desert where he eventually meets and marries Zipporah.

Nine years pass and Moses then begins having visions of a young boy who is meant to represent God who tells him that he must free the Hebrews. He eventually takes up this mantle, returns to Memphis, and begins to slowly make his war for freedom known to Rhamses, whereupon God eventually lets loose the various plagues of Egypt and  very bad things happen.

Now, here’s the problem with the film. Moses gets the most screentime, obviously, and Bale does a typically good job, though his accent changes all the time depending on if he thinks he’s an Egyptian or a Hebrew. It’s very bizarre and unnerving all at the same time. The rest of the cast gets either under-served or not served at all. Aaron Paul is in this movie playing Joshua, a Hebrew slave who takes up with Moses and eventually leads Israel. He’s onscreen a lot, but we never get much of him talking or doing anything. Sigourney Weaver plays Rhamses’ mother and the Pharaoh’s wife. You’d never know this except you’re told that and she has like two scenes.

And while we’re on the topic of the cast, one of the issues that’s been raised a lot is that all of the main characters, who are meant to be Egyptian or Hebrew, are played by Caucasian people. There are a few people of color in the film, but they aren’t in it very much or are relegated to background performers. There is an Iranian actress, an Israeli actress, and a Spanish actress who all have sizable roles but that’s it.  It’s very troubling, and Scott himself has said this was only done because names put butts in seats, essentially. That can’t be the only reason, can it? This isn’t the 1950s; there are many great actors all around the world who could be included and yet aren’t !

The cinematography is very rich and sumptuous. The action is also quite impressive but not really anything we haven’t seen many times already in other action films. I really wanted more depth from a movie like this and the people involved. It’s like all of the scenes exist purely for the trailer or for an extended sneak peek, they’re impressive, but together there isn’t any connective tissue. Maybe all of the good stuff is in the hour that got cut out and the inevitable director’s cut will be the thing to watch, but until they start letting Ridley Scott make the movies he wants to make, or stop him altogether, we’re going to be left with shrugs and memories of better movies.

This is a trend that I have noticed with Hollywood that is quite disgusting. Surely there are christian directors that are capable of making a movie that is a special effect savvy film without sacrificing the message but often we are only left with biblical stories that are skeletons of what the true message should be. 


Our Rating: 7 out of 10

Here are the key issues that make the film somewhat upsetting:

-Few lead actors of color despite the Bible stating that many of the Biblical heroes were of color. 
-Miriam, Aaron, and Joshua were underused and underdeveloped.
-The casted child in the film that played God was unnecessary and confusing. 
-Moses did not write The Ten Commandments, God Did !
-Moses constantly questioning and arguing with God
-Moses does not have a stutter and is quite eloquent of speech 
-Letting Ramses live in the film rather than perish with the Egyptian Army at the Red Sea.