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Dustin Putman

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Exodus: Gods and Kings  (2014)
2 Stars
Directed by Ridley Scott.
Cast: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, John Turturro, Aaron Paul, Ben Mendelsohn, María Valverde, Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kingsley, Isaac Andrews, Hiam Abbass, Indira Varma, Ewen Bremner, Golshifteh Farahani, Ghassan Massoud, Tara Fitzgerald, Andrew BarclayTarbet.
2014 – 150 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for violence and intense images).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, December 8, 2014.
In scope and budget, "Exodus: Gods and Kings" is quite possibly 77-year-old filmmaker Ridley Scott's biggest film to date. Costing a reported $140-million, the film aims to dust off, freshen up and, in some cases, reimagine the biblical tale of Moses and the events leading up to the ten plagues of Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea. Production values are on the extravagant side, but the screenplay by Adam Cooper & Bill Collage (2006's "Accepted") and Jeffrey Caine (1995's "GoldenEye") and Steven Zaillian (2011's "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo") is a more middling affair that lacks personality and depth. For his part, Scott is the consummate craftsman even when his material is traversing the familiar and ham-fisted, yet one cannot help but sense his independent-minded artistic spirit struggling to break free. Coming off of two exceptionally bold, predictably divisive projects—2012's majestically provocative sci-fi epic "Prometheus" and 2013's razor-edged modern tragedy "The Counselor"—Scott's latest feels particularly suffocating.

1300 B.C.E. In the ancient capital of Memphis, Moses (Christian Bale) is a celebrated warrior and best friend to Ramses (Joel Edgerton), son of powerful pharaoh Seti (John Turturro). His comfy life inside the palace walls (that is, when he isn't leading battles against the Hittites) is suddenly threatened when he learns of his Hebrew heritage and the sordid truth behind his upbringing—bombshells that lead to charges of treason and banishment from the kingdom. Moses finds a new life in a faraway village, marrying the caring Zipporah (María Valverde) and bearing a child, but when word comes of Ramses' tyrannical reign on the throne previously occupied by the late Seti, he decides to return to save his enslaved people.

"Exodus: Gods and Kings" is competent as a grandly scaled swords-and-sandals drama, but the relationship between Moses and Ramses is too cursorily developed early on for what ultimately occurs between them to have the piercing impact it should. Casting white actors in the roles of Egyptians is nothing new, and Christian Bale (2013's "American Hustle") and a virtually unrecognizable Joel Edgerton (2013's "The Great Gatsby") equip themselves with the fortitude one has come to expect from these fine performers. With his eyeliner and rouged cheeks, Edgerton doesn't look totally unlike a made-up Bea Arthur, but this is his biggest hurdle to jump. Less forgiving is the monumental wasting of a supporting ensemble that includes Aaron Paul (2014's "Need for Speed"), speaking maybe six lines as Moses' ally Joshua, and a pitifully stranded Sigourney Weaver (2012's "The Cabin in the Woods") as Teti's venomous wife Tuya. That Ridley Scott—the man who basically started Weaver's career with 1979's "Alien" and gave her the role of a lifetime in action heroine Ripley—would have the gall to put this legendary actress in such a nothing part is perhaps the picture's most shameful blunder.

Checking boxes more than allowing its story to breathe, "Exodus: Gods and Kings" bursts to life in time for an extended mid-section montage depicting God's wrath upon the people of Egypt via ten devastating plagues. From the merciless alligator attack that turns the water of the Nile into blood to the onslaught of frogs, lice, flies and locusts that brings disease to the land, this segment is thunderously captivating and visually reverent. And then, alas, the narrative presses on but loses momentum during a climax that attempts to make the parting of the Red Sea more plausible than its treatment in 1956's "The Ten Commandments." While Scott's delivery is admirable, the human showdown betwixt his two leads proves silly and unsatisfying. "Exodus: Gods and Kings" has a flurry of undeniable technical merits and two fine central turns from Bale and Edgerton, but how successful can a sprawling live-action spectacle really be when it predominately makes one wish he or she was revisiting 1998's superior animated film, "The Prince of Egypt," instead?
© 2014 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman