For me, Exodus caps off the year’s biblical pair. In March, we had Darren Aronofsky’s, Noah, a film that had some creative visuals and was very well told. Albeit, it was probably one of Aronofsky’s least recognized and remembered films. While Noah seems to have a more artistic approach, based in vivid and metaphorically faith based images, Ridley Scott’s adaptation of The Book of Exodus is perhaps more focused on the scientific, the measurable and the coherence. Exodus: Gods and Kings is perhaps the more entertaining and charismatic of the two.
Moses (Christian Bale) is a close ally and adviser to the Prince of Egypt, Ramses (Joel Edgerton). He fights alongside the Prince for Pharaoh Seti (John Turturro), and is dutiful enough to undertake some of the laborious royal duties that Ramses must complete. One such task is to inspect Pithom, a city of slave miners, supervised by the corrupt Viceroy Hegep (Ben Mendelsohn). While preparing to arrest the Viceroy, Moses consults the Elder Hebrew slaves. One, Nun (Ben Kingsley), informs Moses that he is actually an adopted Hebrew, unknown to himself and the royals in the capital. Hegep’s spies overhear this and report to the Viceroy. When Hegep is summoned to Memphis to face the newly crowned Ramses (his father having passed), Hegep accuses Moses of being a Hebrew. Ramses is unwilling to believe it, but when pushed, Moses admits the truth. Rather than killing a close friend and ally, Ramses instead exiles Moses. In his exile, Moses marries and begins having visions of the voice of God (Issac Andrews). This voice informs him of Ramses’ increased mishandling of the Hebrew slaves and implores Moses to return to Egypt to free his people.
Arronofsky’s vision of a biblical text was firmly rooted in art-house and artistic images. Furthermore, it capitalized on the mythology and the legend of it all. Exodus perhaps plays out more creditably and is more direct in the approach. In Scott’s adaptation, he creates a more engaging character than that of Noah. Moses, here, is fallible. This Moses is at conflict with himself in matters of purpose, family and faith, and each melds well into the other. Things get impressive in the depiction of the Plagues. While there is a certain element of “this is the hand of a higher being,” the sequence of events is smartly laid out. I had some concerns regarding how well the Ramses character had been played out. Joel Edgerton did wonders portraying the conflict of Ramses’ life, however, I felt there wasn’t as much conviction in his narrative than the rest of the characters. Similarly, Scott seems to breeze over some of the other critical Biblical figures of that time (i.e, Aaron, Joshua and Nun).
It’s refreshing to hear Christian Bale speak in his native tongue. I thought his performance was fantastic, however, it dulled in the middle of the film. I was very impressed with the way in which both he and Edgerton bounced off one and another throughout the movie. Instead of making this a movie about the biblical journey, the centerpiece here is the relationship between these two characters and Bale and Edgerton really strive to highlight that. Because these two characters are underlined so well, the supporting cast slips by the wayside. This is especially unfortunate considering the caliber of names present; Aaron Paul, Ben Kingsley, Ben Mendelsohn and Sigourney Weaver seem entirely out of place.
It’s a touchy subject but race has come to be a prominent issue throughout the promotion of this film. I, for one, do not understand why. Do you cast for political correctness or for quality? Granted, it is a hard scale to balance and it has been achieved. Schindler’s List (1993) and Gran Torino (2008) are examples of films with good inclusive practices. Personally, I believe a producer and director should do everything in their power to create a quality film. That might mean, hiring for talent and not considering racial representation. Their job is to tell a meaningful story after all. Ridley Scott certainly has tried to utilise a talented cast and succeeded in many ways. Exodus is thrilling, even when events are being controlled by a higher being. However, some of the more wasteful elements of the script are highlighted regularly.
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