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Movie review: "Exodus" a mediocre effort

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(5 out of 10 stars)

(150 minutes. Rated PG-13 for violence, including battle sequences and intense images).

Going into Exodus I was certain that I was either going to love or hate it. There would be no middle ground. Generally, in a Ridley Scott movie, there never is. Much to my surprised chagrin, it ended up kind of mediocre.

At least, that is what I initially thought when I left the movie theater. But upon further thought and analysis, Exodus was paradox of good and bad, epic in its scope, yet ultimately unsatisfying. 

Exodus, as you may have guessed, is the Biblical Moses story, and if you have ever gone to Sunday school or had your TV turned on at Easter time, you know the story of Moses from either your preacher or from Charlton Heston. For the most part, aside from several mind-searing exceptions, the movie is a blow-by-blow of the popular Biblical chapter. 

Let us take a small time-out here: One of the elements that I most admire about the Bible, aside from any religious leanings, is that it is a remarkable piece of literature. It is full of beautiful allegorical language, astounding imagery and symbolism, and generates conflict and suspense on the greatest of scales. And, as evidenced by the multitude of Abrahamic-based religions, sects, and sub-sects, and the sometimes insane wackos that invest into the Bible, specifically the Old Testament, it is wide open for individual interpretation. I mean, everyone can take something unique from their readings, right?

So, following that logic, Ridley Scott is free to write his rendition of what he thinks happened based upon a piece of literature that is approximately 2,500 years old, isnt he?

Back to the review.

The problem with the movie is that he took literature that is unarguably some of the best humanity has ever produced and gave it some bizarre twists that simply were not necessary and combined it with undeveloped plot points that ultimately produced some epically bad writing.

Maybe he should have stuck to the Ten Commandments way of thinking.

For example, at the point in the Bible where Moses was trying to convince Ramses to emancipate the Jews, Moses was given the ability by God to inflict several plagues upon Egypt via miracle. However, in Exodus Moses was portrayed almost as a bystander, unable or unwilling to set any or all in motion.  More confounding was that Scott and writers Adam Cooper and Bill Collage tried to give logical reasons behind each scourge. The reason the Nile ran red with blood was because giant crocodiles attacked and killed every sailor navigating the river. The reason the Red Sea parted was because an extraordinary weather event occurred at the most coincidental time at the right point of shallows. I went back to the Bible and none of that is anywhere in there.

Look, I get it. Sometimes these 10 plagues seemed impossible to believe when I was a boy. But here is the thing: Since God, in these stories, has power over everything in the universe, Scott does not need to give us a back story as to how events happened. They just happened. He is God. If God says he made something happen, then guess what? We buy it.

The most jaw-dropping of Scotts interpretations is God himself. I expected a wonderful CGI burning bush and an accompanying booming voice, such as one belonging to James Earl Jones. However, I can see where that can be problematic. For one, who is going to buy Darth Vader as God. too? Also, no matter whose voice Scott put into that part, certainly he is going to open himself up for criticism. 

So instead, he cast an 11 year-old British actor, Isaac Andrews, as the Jewish God.


Actually, it kind of worked for me after I got over the introductory shot. At first I wondered if the boy was an angel or some type of messenger of God. But no, the cherubic, blue-eyed face was indeed that of God the Almighty. But then I remembered from my Sunday school that God is ubiquitous; He is the trees, the rain, the flowers. Why could He not be an 11 year-old kid?

The issue I have with the writing is that Moses had a seemingly adversarial relationship with God and tended to argue with him more than acquiesce to his will. He was adamant with God that he would not participate with the final plague of having every first born child in Egypt die. I get that, too. But from my perspective, if God asks me to unleash locusts, my only question is when and where. You simply do not argue with a god that can make you drop dead in a blink of an eye and this is not the New Testament turn-the-other-cheek God. This is the vengeful and often in need of anger management God of the Old Testament.

As for the rest of the movie, it was as disjointed as the writing. Scott has the ability to get great actors to work for him and Exodus was no exception. Christian Bale, one of the best actors working today, portrayed Moses. While his performance was rather uninspired, he still carried the movie. According to the Bible, Moses was 83 years old when he confronted the Pharaoh, but instead we got the virile Bale. Really, though, who would go see a $240 million blockbuster starring Abe Vigoda (yes, he is still alive)?

The litany of talented actors seemed to parade across the screen. Ben Kinsley, Joel Edgerton, Sigourney Weaver, John Turturro, Aaron Paul. All were incredibly miscast (and I kept waiting for Paul to end every one of his lines with bitch) and in Weavers case, I kept waiting for her to have more than the one line she had five minutes into the film. 

Edgerton as Ramses was good; however, his character was ghastly underdeveloped. Ramses II is guessed by historians as the pharaoh that suffered Moses. What is not widely known is that history has shown Ramses to have been a great leader of the Egyptian people and having accomplished many good political and cultural deeds. The films writing contrastingly portrays him to be a bored and uninspired leader.

On a more positive note, the scale of this movie was indeed as epic as the trailer promised. The CGI was remarkable as the 10 plagues checked off, the Red Sea collapsed upon the Eygptians, and 400,000 Jews began their 30-year sojourn in the desert. 

If, for no other reason, the special effects and the battle against the Hittites (yeah, thats nowhere in Exodus either) are well worth the price of the ticket. And as always, there is no better place to see it in Peoria than the Carmike Cinemas. The picture and sound were simply perfect.

It is too bad that Ridley Scott he of Gladiator and Black Hawk Down and Alien missed so badly here. When Scott is good, he is as good as it gets and is an insanely talented filmmaker. When he swings and misses, however (Robin Hood and Kingdom of Heaven), it is epically bad.

Here, for a change, he fouls it back. In movies though, there is no do-over.

I give this film 5 out of 10 stars.


About the Author
Who was that mysterious man you saw in the theater last night? You tried to get a look at him but he quickly disappeared in a puff of smoke, his cackle trailing in the air, leaving behind his calling card: a half-eaten box of popcorn and a lukewarm soda. He is Our Movie Reviewer named Tim!