The Hippo


May 28, 2020








Exodus: Gods & Kings

Exodus: Gods and Kings (PG-13)
Film Reviews by Amy Diaz

By Amy Diaz

Exodus: Gods and Kings (PG-13)

Christian Bale picks Moses for his unconvincing Halloween costume in Exodus: Gods and Kings, a movie that is just as campy as the 1956 The Ten Commandments but in a different way.
As young princes of Egypt, Moses (Bale) and his cousin Ramses (Joel Edgerton) hang out, doing battle with the Hittites and rolling their eyes at Ramses’ dad, the pharaoh Seti (John Turturro), and his use of a flaky-seeming prognosticator (Indira Varma). One of her predictions: in the battle with the Hittites, a leader will be saved, and the savior himself will become a leader. Moses laughs it off but when that very thing happens, with him saving Ramses, the easily spooked Ramses is certain it means something. 
To help the stressed Ramses out, Moses offers to go to Pithom, a city where large state construction projects are underway and the local viceroy (Ben Mendelsohn) wants more soldiers to keep down his restless Hebrew slave population. Moses doesn’t think much of the viceroy, whom he is convinced is probably stealing, and meets with the Hebrew elders, including Nun (Ben Kingsley), who I came to think of as Alderman Exposition. Pulling Moses aside, Alderman Exposition tells him a fantastical story: that Moses is not, as he has always believed, the son of an Egyptian general and Seti’s sister Bithia (Hiam Abbass) but he is in fact Moshe, the son of Hebrews and the brother of Miriam (Tara Fitzgerald), Bithia’s handmaid who brought baby Moshe to the river where the pharaoh’s daughter was bathing. 
Moses doesn’t exactly buy Nun’s story but he also doesn’t not buy it — he’s always felt out of place. (Perhaps because he is a British actor failing to in any way call to mind a man of B.C. Egypt? Perhaps this is also what troubles the Australian Ramses….) So when the viceroy finds out the tale and TMZs it to Ramses, Moses, while calling BS on it, also eventually agrees that it is true rather than let Ramses cut off Miriam’s arm as part of questioning. Ramses, who is now pharaoh himself since Seti succumbed to illness, decides that Moses’ agreeing to something rather than letting a lady’s arm be cut off is more of a plea-bargain situation than a bit of damning evidence and sentences Moses to banishment. Meanwhile, Ramses’ scheming, never-again-seen mother Tuya (Sigorney Weaver) sends assassins after Moses to finish the job. 
But Moses fights off his would-be attackers and finds a new home, a new job (shepherd) and a wife, Zipporah (Maria Valverde). Nine years post-banishment, he’s a happy farming dad when an accident on a mountain leads him to talk to God (played by Isaac Andrews, who appears to be about 10 years old) and get his quest to save his people. Thus, after a good long bit of movie, do we finally get to the rivers of blood and rain of toads and the “let my people go.”
Which, come to think of it, I can’t remember if Bale ever says or not but you get the idea.
So any fan of a good, campy Bible movie will be well-acquainted with the delightful ridiculousness of Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments. You’ve got your hammy Charlton Heston Moses, your even hammier Yul Brynner as Ramses, and your Anne Baxter, purring and chewing the scenery like she’s auditioning to replace Julie Newmar in the 1960s Batman TV show. (Fun fact: Baxter also appeared as a villain on the Adam West Batman series. Not as Nefretiri  — but Ten Commandments Nefretiri would have fit right in as a Batman villain.) You’ve got your “so let it be written,” your wonderfully terrible special effects, your everything Edward G. Robinson says.
Exodus: Gods and Kings is not campy like that. Exodus is deadly serious. Exodus white-knuckles every moment, whether it’s Moses’ vision of God — or is it just a head-wound-inspired delusion? — or Moses’ and Ramses’ whole brothers/reluctant enemies relationship. Exodus strains and grunts and adds gritty flourishes everywhere to make the locusts and the boils and the death of the first born all seem real and extra horrible, like the most recent chapter on the grimmest anti-hero cable show, True Detective meets Walking Dead meets this movie’s director Ridley Scott’s most Black Hawk Down tendencies. The result is, of course, ridiculous. It is the kind of unwinking campiness you don’t often see anymore outside a Uwe Boll movie or, for that matter, this year’s Noah. Apparently 2014 is the year of the big, goofy Bible movie. Sure, Scott’s take on the parting of the Red Sea is fun, but it’s also kind of silly. The movie has a few moments of what I’m pretty sure is intentional humor — the prognosticator tries to downplay the plagues and in the next scene we see her about to be hanged. (In fact, the cut-away-to-hanging shot is used twice for humorous-ish purposes.) But mostly, I found myself laughing at unintentional silliness, such as God-boy’s discussions with Moses or the out-of-left-field very few scenes containing Sigourney Weaver. 
I have great affection for the big goofy Bible movie as a genre. Perhaps this is why I found myself actually kind of enjoying small moments here. Edgerton’s take on Ramses — as more of a captive of his throne than a strong-willed ruler — is weird but interesting, far more interesting than the dry-toast Moses Bale offers. And there’s something sort of “huh”-able about the way the story shows Moses setting up an insurgent army, only to be told by God-child that he’s taking too long and to hit the benches while He whips up some lice and hail. 
Overall, however, Exodus: Gods and Kings’ most lasting impression isn’t as a tale of freedom from bondage or the creation of commandments (which get a Sigourney Weaver amount of screen time at the movie’s end) but as an example of overly ambitious scope with limited ideas and lack of a cohesive story. C
Rated PG-13 for violence including battle sequences and intense images. Directed by Ridley Scott and written by Adam Cooper & Bill Collage and Jeffrey Caine and Steven Zaillian, Exodus: Gods and Kings is two hours and 30 minutes long and is distributed by 20th Century Fox. 
As seen in the December 18, 2014 issue of the Hippo.

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