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Film Review

Not very godly

12/17/2014

“Exodus: Gods and Kings”

150 minutes

Rated PG-13

Starring: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Ben Kingsley

Seti (John Turturro, background) presents the future leaders of Egypt: Ramses (Joel Edgerton, left) and Moses (Christian Bale).

Seti (John Turturro, background) presents the future leaders of Egypt: Ramses (Joel Edgerton, left) and Moses (Christian Bale).

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There is a good movie hidden within “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” but there is also a very real chance that the things that are worthwhile will be lost underneath the weight of all the film’s flaws.

“Exodus: Gods and Kings” tells, as the title clearly points out, the story of the biblical book of Exodus. It starts with a pre-prophet Moses (Christian Bale) and Ramses (Joel Edgerton) together as young men and friends, raised together as brothers. After Moses’ Hebrew bloodlines are brought to light, he is exiled from the kingdom of Egypt and begins the slow transformation into the liberator of the Jewish people.

The film hits on all the highlights of Moses’ story: the burning bush, rivers of blood and a final, climactic parting of the Red Sea. And yet, despite the film’s two-and-a-half hour run time, it comes off kind of feeling like a Cliffs Notes version of the story.

The film is at times beautiful, and Bale offers up a solid performance as Moses. But the things the film does well may be lost on audiences, hidden behind the static of one glaring, well-publicized, flaw — the casting.

The film’s biggest secondary flaw could best be described as one of identity. It is hard to know what director and co-writer Ridley Scott wanted this film to be. It is based upon a book of the Bible but strays away from its source material in enough ways to leave Christian audiences feeling a little flat. The trailers portray the film as an action epic, but there is really only one battle scene in the whole film, leaving the other two hours rather poorly paced.

Since the film is a modern day epic, there is virtually no portion of it that isn’t touched by computer generated imagery (CGI). In most of the scenes that matter, it is done acceptably well. The climactic scene involving the Red Sea is definitely worth beholding, but the CGI recreation of Memphis, Egypt, feels particularly soulless.

But what the film will be remembered for — the facet that will go down as the film’s biggest failing — is the casting. The whitewashing of the cast has been much publicized in recent weeks. Scott has defended his choices by saying that he could never have gotten the funding for the film without big name actors in the big roles. Maybe he is correct. But while you might be able to make that argument sound convincing in regards to Bale as Moses, it quickly falls apart after that.

How much additional legitimacy does the Aussie Edgerton, for example, whose next-biggest film is 2013’s “The Great Gatsby,” really bring to the film? But it is in the secondary and minor characters where the casting gets genuinely distracting and borders upon comic. Rather than casting, say, Omar Sharif as the Pharaoh Seti, Scott decided that John Turturro was a better fit, with Sigourney Weaver cast as his wife, Tuya. And while there were some Egyptian and Israeli actors cast as extras, the relatively minor role of Joshua went to Aaron Paul (“Breaking Bad”).

When the film focuses solely on Bale, it is easy to momentarily forget the rest of the cast and get into the scene. But those moments are far too rare, and the rest of the film far too flawed to make “Exodus” anything more than a middling film in Scott’s career. CV

 

 

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