For a moment it looked like the biblical epic might have been making a second coming. Darren Aronofsky’s ‘Noah’ was an interesting take on the ancient flood story, flawed yet artistic and thoughtful. With Ridley Scott bringing us a new version of the Moses story it looked like we were seeing a genre return – were Bible based movies having a renaissance? Well after watching ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’ I should suspect the answer is no… I doubt any director would be brave enough to enter these murky waters again too soon.
Adapting a biblical story is no easy feat. To some these stories are divinely inspired historical texts, or at least a narrative that is core to defining a whole people’s identity, whereas to others they are perceived as dangerous fairy stories that we perpetuate at our peril. And let’s be honest, it’s hardly a simple task telling a story where the God on the side of the heroes commits mass infanticide. Yet whereas ‘Noah’ was able to straddle these difficulties and make a movie that both reflected the original texts and cast a modern spin on them – to the extent where you were unsure whether Noah was speaking to God at all or simply insane – ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’ falls down at nearly every hurdle put before it.
As a film it simply doesn’t seem to know what it is trying to say. On the one hand it toys with the idea that perhaps Moses is insane, that maybe there is no God, but then quickly dispenses with the idea and moves on (that or the Israelites are EXTREMELY lucky… unless that is the point, some kind of laboured metaphor for the teleological argument?) It struggles, understandably, with the actions of the divine yet ultimately doesn’t make a case against it. The trouble is the movie ends up being for no-one. It is too cynical and agnostic for the faithful yet too devout and self-serious for the atheist.
All that being said, and the problems of translating a religious text understandable, the film simply fails at just being a good movie. It is incredibly po-faced, bizarrely paced and self-important. Nearly every deviation from the original story is ultimately for the worst – Moses having a sword instead of a staff feels like a forced attempt to appeal to the mainstream, the parting of the Red Sea would be a lot more interesting if they stuck to the texts and the decision to portray God as a petulant, creepy child just feels wrong (not because God in the image of a child is problematic as such, but simply because the Exodus account is about God’s display of power and loyalty to his people. It should be majestic and/or terrifying, not sinister.)
The actors do their best with the material they’re given, even if Christian Bale (a fine actor) is struggling with overexposure and feels like an amalgam of his previous roles. Characters, such as Nun played by Ben Kingsley and Tuya played by Sigourney Weaver, have a tendency to pop-up but contribute nothing to the overall story. In fact this is a movie all about the set pieces and yet, when push comes to shove, the set pieces themselves aren’t all that great (although what Scott does with the Nile turning red, although daft, makes for an admittedly spectacular sequence.) On top of all that the film is mercilessly long!
So, as you may be able to tell, I’m not a huge fan. Honestly it’s not even a terrible film – it’s just a long, boring, non-event. Certainly not one parting the Red Sea for! If you have a strong yearning to see a Moses based movie, check out ‘The Prince of Egypt’ instead – it tells the whole story much better and in about half the running time.