review//EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS

Grade: B-

EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS
Directed by Ridley Scott
Starring Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kingsley, Aaron Paul

Ridley Scott helmed some of modern cinema's most exciting epics. Black Hawk Down was a masterful war actioner. Blade Runner is a classic of the sci-fi realm. The Alien franchise is one of Hollywood's best. And, Gladiator won the Academy Award for Best Picture. When looking at his impressive body of work, there's no surprise that his newest endeavor, Exodus: Gods and Kings, offers some of the most interesting and exciting visuals this year, if you can make it past the sluggish first hour.

The story of Moses is one of the most well-known stories of all time. It's one of the standards of most religious beliefs and has been delightfully depicted in cinema for over a century. This, most likely, presents the biggest problem in bringing the story to life. How do you keep it fresh? In the age of ever-growing technology and visual effects, the standard for what we see is paramount to almost every other aspect of film. This is unfortunate, to some degree, when presenting a story like that of Moses, because you run the risk of losing the emotional prowess that makes it as impacting as it is intended.

Picking up during Moses' adult life, Exodus: Gods and Kings chooses to focus on a Moses that is deeply rooted in his upbringing, but still rich in compassion. He scoffs at the idea of him being a Hebrew, but the inkling thought of a uniqueness drives him to seek out more. In other versions of the story, Moses comes across as a very intuitive, but confused, man maturing into a natural born leader. Here, however, there's an underlying anger. There's no doubt that Moses wrestled with his identity and with the calling on his life, but it takes a bit to get used to him being so angry about it all of the time. There's a strange intensity to his approach to how he handles every situation that sometimes seems to even lack faith.

The casting of the film has received huge amounts of scrutiny, but in remaining unpolitical, the actors themselves do the film justice. Christian Bale, as Moses, possesses the same subtle approach he brought to Batman. There's a power in the sincerity of a small gesture, as opposed to overplaying anything. Joel Edgerton, as Ramses, fits the egotistical tyrant role so well. The rest of the cast is fine, despite not having much to chew on. Aaron Paul's Joshua always seems to be lingering on having an important role in the story, but he's kept in the shadows the entire time. Newcomer Maria Valverde is stunning as Moses' wife Zipporah.

Scott doesn't let down when it comes to the second act. The plagues are disgusting and frightening, as they should be. There's a clever twist to how he presents these, as well, that really works. Bringing science into a somewhat supernatural experience actually makes even that more bizarre. The Red Sea moment, which has become the trademark of any Moses film, is spectacular and harrowing, if not also a little riddled with creative liberties. It's the first half of the film that really falters, feeling almost like a missed opportunity in the realm of Oliver Stone's Alexander, than a great set-up to an incredible story.

Exodus: Gods and Kings doesn't hit the classic Hollywood note like Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments in 1956, nor does it reach the emotional depth of 1998's animated classic The Prince of Egypt, but there is something to be said about a film that brings the Bible to life in a way that feels fresh and exciting, even when you already know how it's going to end.

Runtime: 150 minutes
Rating: PG-13

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