Friday, December 12, 2014


Sir Ridley Scott’s adaptation of the biblical Book of Exodus is very much done in the spirit of the Golden Age of Cinema; where thousands upon thousands of extras inhabited gigantic setpieces which are set in even gigantic-er landscapes…topped off with big-name actors, rousing scores, and jaw-dropping visuals. That is the leap-off point of Scott’s version of the story, EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS. 

Moses (Christian Bale) is raised as a brother alongside the future Pharaoh Ramses (Joel Edgerton) in ancient Egypt. When Moses learns of his true lineage, he rises up against Ramses in an attempt to free the 400,000 Hebrew slaves from Egypt. 

Everything about EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS is done on a HUGE scale. Massive cities and sprawling landscapes are always front and center, along with the behemoth task of getting tens of thousands of people out of bondage and across tens of thousands of miles of desert to their homeland. With such a big canvas to work from, the human focus of GODS AND KINGS naturally goes to Moses. This is truly his story as his faith is constantly put to the test as he tries to pull off a task he himself is not sure can be done. 

While a lot of time is spent with Moses and his struggles to believe, Ridley Scott winds up making a very dull film. Despite how much is going on with Moses, his step-brother, his real family, and the mystical elements surrounding and attacking everything, GODS AND KINGS doesn’t have much of a heartbeat to it and no real vision. Other than some startling visuals, Scott doesn’t put any personal touch on the characters or the story, and the result is very underwhelming. 

While the characters get lost and the story slogs along, Scott puts a lot of effort in keeping the mystical elements grounded. The messages from God to Moses come via a creepy little boy who vanishes at will, and some of the deadly plagues are actually grounded in realism; a practical reason is given for the fantastical happenings as Scott doesn’t seem interested in just holy magic. For the most part it works, but Scott doesn’t fully commit to the idea. Only some of the plagues get the grounded treatment, while the others just seem to happen on their own. One gets the feeling that there are some things cut out of the film for time (more on that later), because the imbalance is very up-front. 

While Scott is creating a head-scratching ho-hummer, he still manages to display one of the most jaw-dropping and visually stunning films of his career. Landscapes and cityscapes are breathtaking, and he deadly plagues, especially the locusts and the frogs…are chillingly creepy. Scott’s stark photography and eye for framing the perfect shot is always on display, and there is never a moment when GODS AND KINGS is visually dull. 

Acting is far from god-like. Christian Bale seems confused as to when to keep his odd accent, and Joel Edgerton seems lost in all the spectacle. Aaron Paul (TV’s BREAKING BAD) also gets lost in it all, and Sir Ben Kingsley only shows up to tell everyone what’s going on. Sigourney Weaver pops in a few times to speak about 12 words total (again, feeling like a victim of the cutting room), and John Turturro just can’t be taken seriously as an Egyptian Pharaoh. 

After a rousing and incredible parting of the Red Sea sequence towards the finale, GODS AND KINGS slogs down into a very anti-climatic wrap. The story takes several time-jumps and blows by decades of happenings, and only briefly touches upon some of the more well-known aspects of the story. It does feel like a lot of scenes are missing and that a complete version of the film has yet to be seen, but until then this is all we can react to. GODS AND KINGS winds up being a frustrating watch because it is visually arresting, but lacks the substance to make it worthwhile. There is no mighty message from the heavens to be seen here.


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