Movie Review: EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS (2014) – Revisionist History At Work?
Films on biblical stories have never been uncommon. Some of the most epic films are based on variations of Religious stories. However, it’s a little unnerving when a very well known story from the Bible, is retold with such modifications, that the end moral of the tale seems not what the original version was about. Ridley Scott’s ‘Exodus: Gods And Kings’ retells a famous story, but takes some liberties with the sequence of events. Read on my for Movie Review, and let me know how you feel about such liberties being taken in movies.
The story of Moses and the liberation of the Hebrew people from the Pharaoh’s rule, is something general audiences may have heard of many times. Many movies have also been made of the story. However, Ridley Scott brings his patented action adventure style to this re-telling, with major stars in the lead roles.
The story follows a familiar track showing Moses (Christian Bale) being raised among the royal family, as a cousin to the heir to the empire, Ramses (Joel Edgerton) and is a general in the royal army. Upon the revelation that he is one of the Hebrew people of Egypt, Moses is exiled and forced to find his own path. This path leads him to God, who charges him with the liberation of Hebrew people, his people, causing Moses to wage all out war against his former brother.
The 1st act of the film is rich with back story and unique depictions of these characters, portrayed beautifully by the lead actors. The brotherhood between Ramses & Moses are captured wonderfully by Edgerton & Bale respectively. The stage is set and the dynamic between the two main characters are introduced. Where the film falls apart is in its middle and eventual 3rd act, which felt rushed, given the scope of what it was trying to establish. The roles of protagonist and antagonist almost get switched by that time.
Director Scott chose to personify God through a child, and his interactions with Moses came off more as vengeful rage rather than righteous morality. Even Moses himself near the end, gave an impression of angry frustration than a noble Messiah. The sequence of events that occur that transform Moses from a loyal warrior to a saviour, is done poorly and his motivations are not properly established, beyond a need to obey God. And given that Moses was established as a non believer prior to, the lengths he goes to to obey God, seem disingenous for what the character was set up to be.
In contrast, there is a certain amount of empathy towards Ramses. What he is made to go through through out the film, awards him a modicum of sympathy, even though he is an impulsive and rash ruler. By the end, the focus on Ramses’ losses, almost undermines that tragedy of the larger group that have been tortured and enslaved. There are no smaller Hebrew characters featured during the massive exodus from Egypt, no close look at how families are being affected, whereas Ramses is heavily featured, almost, as if he was he victim of the Hebrew’s battle for liberation.
The handling of all the supporting characters, and the amazing actors portraying them, aren’t any better. While John Turturro is amazing as Sethi, Ramses‘ father, Sigourney Weaver (‘Alien’ franchise) appears very briefly in a less than menacing role as his mother. This squandering of the supporting cast continues on with even the great Sir Ben Kingsley, who has one significant scene, but then is relegated to background scenery. Aaron Paul (‘Breaking Bad‘) is absolutely wasted in a role where has has a total of 5 lines of dialogue.
‘Exodus: Gods And Kings’ is still an entertaining film. If preconceptions of the source material can be pushed aside, the story moves at a brisk pace with just enough action and just enough character drama to keep the audience engaged. Bale and Edgerton’s performances hold the entire thing together, despite being off key in certain scenes. The movie is worth a watch, if for nothing else, but as good case study of what happens when an already established story changes the perceived notions of pro / antagonists.
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