It isn’t easy tackling a famous Biblical story and competing with the memory of an
enduring movie like Cecil B. DeMille’s The
Ten Commandments. All things considered, I think director Ridley Scott and his colleagues have done a creditable job. (Remember, he took on DeMille’s The Crusades with his formidably
ambitious Kingdom of Heaven.) Exodus: Gods and Kings has many flaws
but also real virtues, chief among them Christian Bale’s deeply-felt
performance as Moses. The production values and locations add a great deal. But
how you respond to the film overall will depend on your willingness to accept new,
challenging, and in some cases nutty ideas.
The screenplay (credited to Adam Cooper & Bill Collage,
Jeffrey Caine and Steven Zaillian) is at its best when it expresses Moses’
humanity, so well interpreted by Bale, who approaches the character with a
lightness of touch. He can never forget, or escape, the fact that he has been
raised as an Egyptian, nor can he easily break the bond he shares with his
adoptive brother Ramses, well played by Joel Edgerton.
Moses’ odyssey is long and hard; it is as if he lived
several lifetimes, inhabiting different identities along the way. His
self-doubt and resistance to following his apparent destiny makes for great
drama… yet when he finally faces his Creator, God comes to him in the form of a
sulking, British-accented boy. It’s different, I’ll grant you, but I had a
difficult time with this conceit—and it didn’t get any easier after the initial
shock wore off.
Not being a Biblical scholar I can’t comment on other
liberties taken in the script; let’s just say that some passages are digested
more easily than others.
As for the coming of the plagues, if you’ve always had a
hankering to see a graphic depiction of the damage lice and boils can inflict,
you’re in luck. Scott has spared nothing in depicting all the horrors visited
on the Egyptian people, something that DeMille chose to show in more discreet
The final exodus from Egypt and race across the Red Sea is
also told in an entirely new and different way that has already aroused
controversy. My feeling is that Ridley Scott knew he had to top the 1956 epic
and offer a scene that would impress a new generation of moviegoers who have
grown up in the era of CGI. I’d say he delivers, if not in the way many people
expect. The movie’s climactic
scene is truly overwhelming.
Exodus: Gods and Kings
is an imperfect movie, to be sure, but I found much of it compelling and many
of its ideas intriguing. Will it join the ranks of great Biblical films or just be a footnote in the years to come? We’ll have to wait and see.