All directors go through a bit of a roller coaster at some point in their careers and director Ridley Scott has been on that roller coaster every since his Gladiator won five Oscars, including Best Picture, in 2001. Since then, we have seen the good (Black Hawk Down and American Gangster), the bad (Body of Lies and Robin Hood) and the ugly (The Counselor) from him. Where does Mr. Scott’s version of Moses fall into place? We will find out. If there is anything that we have learned from Biblical epics in 2014 (Noah and Exodus), it’s that Hollywood is done with preaching Sunday school films. They want films that show us the grit and the human side of these prophets because they were, in fact, human. Of course they had flaws! And if that pisses you religious bigots off then take a hike because Hollywood is on to something here.
Now, with that being said there will be trial and error (creative license) within these films. Both Noah and Exodus showed strengths and weaknesses throughout their film. Director Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan) took a more artistic and poetic approach to the story of Noah, while Scott took the visual effects route for the story of Moses. Both of these approaches had their pros and cons within the films. But, in my opinion, Aronofsky’s vision was more effective. Lets break down what Mr. Scott got right in Exodus: Gods and Kings and what he could of approved on.
We all know and love Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments, which showed us a grade ‘A’ Biblical epic on the story of Moses. Scott already knew going into this that he had his work cut out for him. But Mr. Scott grabbed an all-star cast (Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, John Turturro, Aaron Paul, Ben Mendelsohn, Sigourney Weaver and Ben Kingsley) and an Academy Award winning scriptwriter, Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List, American Gangster, Moneyball and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). On top of that, he also picked up a superior cinematographer Dariusz Wolski (Sweeney Todd and Prometheus) and musically adept Alberto Iglesias (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Kite Runner) to compose the film.
The film begins without the back-story of Moses’ childhood; instead Scott throws our two victors (Moses, played by Bale and Ramesses, played by Edgerton) into the midst of battle. This epic battle was well choreographed, but completely pointless to Moses’ story. Let be honest, Scott only threw the battle sequence in there because well he’s Ridley Scott. He did the same thing in Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven. After the generic battle scene, we head to Egypt where the Hebrews have been enslaved for 400 years. Here, Scott gives us the best depiction of Egypt I have ever seen. Gold, there's gold everywhere and it's spectacular.
Bale does a decedent job with his interpretation as Moses. He’s no Heston, but I loved how Bale focused on his struggles in his faith with God. This gave us a since of realism and that Moses had flaws as well. Scott also focused on Ramesses and Moses’ relationship as brothers. This was a strong aspect within the film’s core. I believe Scott did this because of the passing of his younger brother, Tony Scott (also a director). But once Ramesses found out that Moses was a Hebrew it’s exile for him, which is where the heart of the story begins. Edgerton does an outstanding job in his portrayal as the ruthless leader, but even through all of his anger and hatred Ramesses still has a heart deep down. He shows his compassion for his beloved infant son. Edgerton brings wrath and heart to the table.
Yes, there’s still the burning bush and the epic plagues that come in a sweep Egypt off its feet. Of course, Scott took in his creative license for his interpretation of having Moses see God envisioned as an 11-year-old boy (Issac Andrews). Malak (Andrews) is an angel or messenger of the Lord and talks to Moses throughout the entire film. Many people were turned off by this interpretation but I loved it. It gave us a face for Moses to look at and to talk to, rather than God speaking down from the heavens. Kudos to the little guy who blew everyone else out of the water in this film because whenever his presence was on screen he stole the show. Even the simple line of “I Am” gave you chills. The strongest aspect of Scott’s Exodus was the ten plagues that God sent to Egypt. Scott’s tour de force comes out with his visual wonders sweeping everyone away. If anything, see this film for the awe worthy plagues because that alone is worth the ticket price. But with all of these skilled experts behind Scott, how did he still miss the mark in some places throughout the film?
The answer lies with Scott getting too carried away with his special effects and focusing more on the visuals instead of the character development. At times, the cast is visually overshadowed and these glorious jaw-dropping effects leave them strained in the desert searching for the promise land. Scott also wastes his supporting cast consisting of Paul, Kingsley and Weaver. Weaver plays Ramesses’ mother and for the first 30 minutes she says absolutely nothing! Scott zooms the camera on her various times like she’s going to say something but nothing comes. I know Scott loves having Weaver in all of his films, but make her character more prominent. Next, there’s Kingsley who gives his famous speech to Moses (Bale) about who he really is and basically disappears after that. And then there is Paul who plays Joshua. All Joshua does is sit and gaze behind a bush at Moses as he’s talking to God. He barely gets five lines said within the film. There was also some added fight scenes where Moses tries to get the Hebrews to fight back against the Egyptians using infantry, which was completely silly.
Finally, after all of the astonishing plagues there was the parting of the Red Sea, which wasn’t really parted by Moses. Instead, Scott uses more of a low tide to make the water recede. This was underwhelming and didn’t have the same pizzazz that the plagues had. Overall, Exodus: Gods and Kings wasn’t a great version of Moses’ story but a decent one. In the end, Scott had some good elements and some bad elements in his film. This was not his best film since Gladiator nor was it his worst, far from it. And if you were mad or unsatisfied with this version of Moses because it wasn’t your sweet cup of Christian coffee, that’s fine, just move on. I’m curious what other Biblical stories Hollywood has in store for the future?
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