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Exodus: Gods and Kings
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Well, There Is One Good Part. . ."
1 stars

Ridley Scott is one of the few directors out there who more often than not works better when he has enormous technical hurdles to conquer. If you have a film that needs vast worlds, either recreations of past eras or detailed conceptualization of future ones, filled up with casts of thousands (even if many of them are now digitally created these days) and elaborate action set-pieces, he is your man, as he has shown in such epics as "Alien," "Blade Runner," "Black Hawk Down," the extended edition of "Kingdom of Heaven" and "Prometheus" (yeah, "Prometheus"). When it comes to dealing with two or three people in a room simply communicating with each other, on the other hand, is when things get dicey and the end result is something like his last effort, "The Counsellor," a film that may reveal itself as some kind of bleak masterpiece of nihilism at some point down the road but which now still plays like a turgid disaster. The problem with his latest effort, the Biblical epic "Exodus: Gods and Kings," is that it tells a story that requires someone with a facility for handling both the epic and the intimate and while he pulls off the big-scale stuff in a reasonable manner, he badly fumbles the quieter, character-driven stuff that is equally important. The end result is a lumbering saga that offers a few moments of real spectacle but which is, ironic for a religious-based narrative, almost utterly devoid of anything resembling a soul.

To successfully make a religious epic in this day and age, I would argue that it simply cannot be just another job for the filmmaker in charge--there needs to be some deep-seated interest in the subject or questions that they have been wrestling with driving and compelling them to go forward with a project so fraught with potential complications. Take films like Martin Scorsese's "The Last Temptation of Christ," Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" and Darren Aronofsky's "Noah"--whatever you might think of them as individual films (I consider the first to be a masterpiece, the second to be well-made if deeply troubling and the third to be a fascinating variation on a familiar tale), you could not deny the fact that these were films that really meant something to their directors and you could not help but sense the depth of their feeling in virtually every scene. By comparison, "Exodus: Gods and Kings" is as anonymous a work as one could imagine--a film that makes the old Cecil B. DeMille spectaculars like his two different takes on "The Ten Commandments" I1923 and 1956) seem like profoundly personal takes on a deeply-felt subject. Actually, those films, for all their schlocky glitz, did manage to maintain certain traces of personality that are completely absent here.

The "Ten Commandments" comparison is a viable one since this one covers roughly the same territory in its take on the story of how Moses came to lead his people to freedom. Eschewing the details of his earliest days, the film starts up with Moses (Christian Bale) as the adopted son of the powerful pharaoh Seti (John Turturro. . .yes, John Turturro), who concedes that Moses is stronger and wiser than his own blood offspring, Ramses (Joel Edgerton), though Moses, being adopted, will never succeed him upon his death. Before leading an attack on the Hittites, Moses and Ramses hear a prophecy that one will save the life of another and one day become a great leader and wouldn't you know it, Moses saves Ramses in the ensuing chaos--the former writes it off as mere coincidence but Ramses is not so sure. Later, while visiting a nearby city to chastise Viceroy Hegen (Ben Mendelsohn) for his extravagance, Moses is led to Nun, the leader of the Jewish slave population who reveals to Moses the true circumstances of his birth and the fact that he is, in fact, a Jew. Moses responds with what is arguably the funniest line in the film, "That is not even a good story."

Moses may blow it off but the increasingly paranoid Ramses is far more attentive when Hegen fills him in and upon the passing of his father, he banishes Moses to the desert and even attempts to have him killed. Moses survives and winds up settling in a village where he marries the lovely Zipporah (Maria Valverde) and tries to lead an ordinary life. One day, he begins having visions of a young boy professing to be God who reveals to Moses that he is destined to free his fellow Jews and lead them to a new life. Eventually he returns to Ramses to demand their freedom but Ramses is not so keen to do so but while Moses begins to prepare his people for the battle of their lives, it seems as if God is picking sides by raining a series of plagues upon the Egyptians--the Nile runs red with blood, waves of locusts and frogs, you know the drill. Finally, Moses and the Jews flee with Ramses and his men, hell-bent on killing them all, in pursuit towards a final confrontation on the banks of the Red Sea.

Just from a narrative standpoint, the story of Moses is so filled with drama, character and excitement that even those with no particular ecclesiastical bent can still get absorbed in it--show me someone whose pulse cannot be raised by the idea of the parting of the Red Sea and I will show you someone who is constitutionally incapable of being entertained. And yet, Scott and his four credited co-writers seem hell-bent on sucking all of those things out of their particular take on the tale. In theory, I get what they are doing--they are trying to eschew the more fantastical approach of someone like DeMille for a more realistic take that tries to depict the incidents in a way that could plausibly be explained by a more rational and secular manner. This is not unlike what Darren Aronofsky did with "Noah" but in that case, you could tell that he actually gave serious thought to depicting the incidents in a way that were both fantastical and grounded. Here, the results are so lacking in interest that even Madelyn Murray O'Hair herself might have found herself asking Scott to bring on God and liven things up a bit. The dialogue is as stodgy as it can be and while the various prunings from the narrative as we know it will presumably come as a relief to anyone tired of the extended running times of this season's cinematic efforts, they serve no other purpose than to lessen the scale and scope even further without contributing anything in return. (Besides, such scenes will no doubt turn up in Scott's extended cut on Blu-ray, which will presumably also include all 15 commandments and a new scene in which Egypt is hit with a plague of unicorns.)

The lack of depth and imagination extends to the characters as as well and as a result, not even the talented cast Scott has assembled can make much of the material they are working with here. Because he is once again playing an orphan rising up from nothing to save his people because it is the right thing to do, there will no doubt be more than a few smart-asses looking drawing parallels between Christian Bale's performance her and his work in the Batman films. Alas, there is no comparison because while the Batman films gave him a complex character that grew and developed over time, his Moses is stilted throughout and he never once seems at all comfortable with what he is doing--he may look and sound like Charlton Heston at a couple of points here and there but in this particular case, he is no Charlton Heston. At least Bale is able to carve out a couple of good moments here and there, which is more than can be said for the painfully miscast Joel Edgerton as Ramses, who looks and feels more like a refugee from that one Katy Perry video that the leader of Egypt. As for the others, Turturro looks so ridiculous that is takes a couple of scenes to realize that really is him, Aaron Paul barely registers as all and, as Ramses's mother, Sigourney Weaver turns up for a couple of scenes to deliver maybe four lines of dialogue in what may be the least substantial appearance she has given in a film since Scott brought her in to pep up "1492: Conquest of Paradise." Even noted scenery-chewer Ben Kingsley is ridiculously subdued here and if even he can't goose the proceedings with his usual flamboyance, you know that things are not looking good.


Exodus: Gods and Kings" does come briefly to life during the big moments of spectacle but while the CGI approach allows them to be presented on a scale that would be impractical to pull off otherwise, there is a certain majesty that has been lost along the way--while the parting of the Red Sea that DeMille devised will continue to be a high-water mark (no pun intended) in the history of visual effects, the version presented here is not nearly as likely to stick in the memory. Beyond that, this is a peculiar mess of a film that never manages to pull itself together and certainly never manages to connect with either its subject matter or the audience. Granted, the story of Moses will no doubt survive this film but my guess is that long before it ends, most viewers will be hoping that someone arrives at the multiplex to lead them to the promised land, or at least into a theater showing a better movie.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=25957&reviewer=389
originally posted: 12/11/14 16:05:09
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User Comments

4/21/16 Edler Shockingly dull and boring! Horrible! Dogmeat 1 stars
3/14/15 Jack A complete waste of time. Acting, dialogue, pacing, etc..are all awful. 1 stars
2/11/15 Rachel Roth Great acting and directing but too dramatic and burshed over important things too quickley 4 stars
1/22/15 angelica POOR acting 1 stars
12/17/14 the rock What the fuck is wrong with you people? Amazing film. 5 stars
12/13/14 teddy crescendo almost completely unwatchable. 1 stars
12/13/14 action movie fan high production-weak script bale is a very weak moses and raMISEES IS A WEAK VILLIAN 2 stars
12/12/14 Koira Shit 1 stars
12/11/14 kenner phenomenal movie. Scott is a master of the epic genre 5 stars
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  12-Dec-2014 (PG-13)
  DVD: 17-Mar-2015


  DVD: 17-Mar-2015

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