Sitting through Exodus: Gods and Kings was sort of like walking past those Syracuse street corners manned by the shouting Bible-clutchers who are most certain that their message of God’s wrath and retribution for my wretched behavior must be shouted into my ear at the most pumped volume they can muster.
Director Ridley Scott did his utmost to crank up the effects in his retelling of the skirmishes between Hebrew leader Moses, Egyptian king Ramses and God’s considerable skin in their escalating battle of wills.
And so through 2 1/2 hours of a Friday matinee at the Regal chain in Shoppingtown, me and about a dozen others I assumed were as aghast as I got to see blankets of dead fish thicker than any winter comforter and a bloodied river redder than any wine and marauding frogs overrun a city and thick clouds of flies leaving bites no salve could un-itch. All in the details available through modern technology and the fine cinemascope of director of photography Dariusz Wolski. It was all quite vivid and horrible. And that’s not even bringing up the practically unthinkable last-straw move God had in his strategy against the Egyptians as they sent their children to bed that night when Ramses once again told Moses he was not going to free the Hebrews as slaves.
But unlike my walks around Syracuse, I couldn’t just quicken my pace to the next corner and get away from such awful thoughts of God’s plans.
And this was the best of Scott’s work in the script from Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, Jeffrey Caine and Steven Zaillian. The rest of the time the story moved slower than, well, a stroll through Egypt. We start with Christian Bale and Joel Edgarton working their wiles as young cousin warriors Moses and Ramses in front of King Seti as they talk about turning back common enemies. They’re as close as brothers, raised together, presented with special swords by Ramses’ father Seti and sworn to always protect each other to the death. It soon becomes apparent that Moses is brave and valiant and honest and maybe the carrier of a secret, and Ramses is not as brave and not as valiant, and besides, Bale is much better looking than Edgarton.
So Seti dies, Ramses is as true to his character flaws as Moses is to his strengths, and Bale’s acting chops somehow wander from a British accent to something more suitable to herding goats, wooing an alarmingly wise peasant beauty and raising a son in an isolated village, and talking to God in the person of a petulant adolescent boy. He also retraces his steps to rally with Gandhi — no, make that Nun, the important Hebrew elder played by Ben Kingsley.
There are high-pitched scenes that employ many extras for battles between gallant arrow- and sword-carrying Crusaders who give their lives with the belief that God is on their side, and the Pyramids and the Sphinx and mountain ranges and of course that famously parting sea make for some magnificent scenery.
Scott pins much hope on the gravitas of the message, passed down from above and written in stone. He even amps that up in the closing credits with a dedication to brother Tony, fellow noted movie director who took his own life in 2012 at the age of 68. No go.
Charlton Heston directed by Cecil B. DeMille in The Ten Commandments way back 1956 shall remain the No. 1 Moses in American history. Easily.
Mark Bialczak is a veteran journalist who has lived in the Syracuse area since 1983. In early 2013, he was set free to write about whatever he wants. Click here to read Mark’s BLOG.