Exodus: Gods and Kings
Directed by Ridley Scott
Starring: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Maria Valverde
Rated PG-13 for violence
including battle sequences and intense images
2 hr. 30 min.
For any film lover who has a vested interest in the biblical story about the flight of the Jews from Egypt after 400 years of slavery (Exodus 1:1-14:31), there’s some good news and bad news. The good news is that the story remains fairly intact, or at least recognizable depending on how devoted you are to the original telling. There are some noticeable dramatizations because, after all, the movie is two and a half hours long and it has to fill in the gaps somewhere. Scriptural literalists will probably not be happy, but at least it doesn’t take the wild liberties that Noah did.
The bad news is that, if you’re familiar with the story or have been raised in a tradition where its telling is an annual event, you may find this film a little slow and prone to wander. It seems that director Ridley Scott has decided to tell the tale as if he was riding on a camel with some friends in the desert and had nothing else to do but chat. You know how that goes. Tell a little, ride a little, tell a little more.
Scott is no stranger to big stories, having built his career on action flicks, including Alien, Bladerunner and Gladiator. So it’s no surprise that he presents his film with some stunning wide-pan shots, lots of thunderous army action and some great special effects.
But it also seems that he wants to present more of a humane story than we might surmise from the Moses of Exodus, and herein his wandering takes Moses (Christian Bale) into a far desert, where he marries Zipporah (Maria Valverde), has a son named Gershom (Hal Hewetson) and settles down as a shepherd.
Only covered in mud and barely alive does he reluctantly acknowledge the presence of God, whom he encounters as a boy named Malak (Isaac Andrews) as he stands next to a burning bush. Malak often cajoles and pushes Moses toward his destiny, and not always kindly. Scott and his team of writers seem to imply that Moses, by arguing with Malek, drives himself a little crazy on his way toward his designated calling.
Christian Bale can hold his own against anyone, and in this Scott is lucky. Bale is able to dig deep and show both the arrogance and suffering of Moses in a way that is agonizingly human and ultimately moving.
The same cannot be said for his rival Ramses (Joel Edgerton), who can’t seem to shed his former action character background. Even with eyeliner, he looks like a street hood whom someone desperately hired as a stand-in. Early on, he appears to be chewing gum, something I doubt a Pharaoh’s son would know much about. Admittedly, his role here is to be defiant. At least he knows how to carry that off in just the way Tony Soprano might act if someone nosed into his business.
The rest of the cast seem to fall in line like ducks, saying the right things and trying to carry out the story without getting in the way of the eventual Moses vs. Ramses showdown. Even Ben Kingsley seems to wander across the set searching for something to say.
If this all sounds a bit cluttered and clumsy, it is. But it’s not without its good moments, especially when Bale is featured. He seems to be carrying the weight of the movie, which is fortunate for Scott because he’s capable of doing exactly that.
This is a big, ragged, sometimes messy film that Scott pushes through to its eventual conclusion. Certainly you can argue whether or not he got the story right and whether or not it’s worth the long journey it takes to reach the end. The challenge really is this: Read the book. Watch the movie. Decide for yourself who’s the better storyteller.