While the Book of Isaiah is the Old Testament book most closely associated with the Advent/Christmas season, exploring Exodus is a worthwhile pursuit during any time of the year.
Its distributor has chosen Advent, specifically Dec. 12 in the Milwaukee area, to release “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” Sir Ridley Scott’s latest directorial effort. The 77-year-old is perhaps best known for directing “Blade Runner,” “Thelma & Louise,” “Gladiator” and “Black Hawk Down,” the last three of which won him Oscar nominations.
An “Exodus,” even one that isn’t a literal re-creation of its source, requires a Moses. Here, that role is capably filled by Christian Bale, even though Bale looks more like a movie star than a prophet through much of the film.
He is rather remindful, actually, of his counterpart in “The Ten Commandments,” Charlton Heston. Ben Kingsley adds his customary gravitas as Nun, father of Joshua (Aaron Paul). Joel Edgerton, the Australian who played Tom Buchanan in last year’s “The Great Gatsby,” is a similarly despicable persona in “Exodus” – Moses’ longtime friend, the headstrong Ramses, who as pharaoh becomes his chief antagonist. John Turturro, a sometimes silly onscreen presence, is appropriately aloof as Ramses’ father and predecessor as Egypt’s ruler.
Alberto Iglesias’ music is solemn. “Exodus” is a 3-D film, so its insects, animals, humans and hailstorms can at times seem to be entering the auditorium. Scott’s ability to compose shots with an artisan’s touch and proficiency in creating both scenes shrouded in darkness and bathed in light are also on display.
Notable images from the Bible’s dramatic second book have not been forgotten. Viewers see the tablets bearing the Decalogue (although Moses does not destroy the tablets here), as well as the golden calf, burning bush, parting of the Red Sea – and more footage of plagues than necessary, given, for one thing, the movie’s 142-minute running time.
A curious touch: God appears to Moses in the guise of a precocious boy (Isaac Andrews, 11), seen and heard only by the Israelites’ leader. In their first encounter, the Lord’s voice (“I am”) emanates from this lad, standing near the burning bush, rather than from the bush itself.
An interesting take, certainly, although in one instance a shouting match between Bale and young Andrews is a tad reminiscent of John Denver’s comic hollering at George Burns in “Oh, God!”
“Exodus” captures audience attention early, even before Kingsley’s Nun tells of the infant Moses hidden in a basket on a reedy bank of the Nile. The action-packed storyline, cinematic flourishes and engaging cast that also includes Tara Fitzgerald as Moses’ sister, Miriam, and Sigourney Weaver, will likely keep viewers engaged through the closing credits.
The dialogue, complete with contractions, sounds too contemporary and pedestrian at times. For example, “I’m not what I thought I was”; “We all have the same goal”; “Is it bad to grow up believing in yourself?” and “This is your famous uncle, Moses. He was once a prince of Egypt.” The film is a little hokey, as when Moses teaches his son to pitch rocks, yet brutal enough for a PG-13 rating.
The chariot mishap on a mountain segment is, undoubtedly, the most spectacular such sequence since “Ben-Hur” in 1959.
For technologically adept liturgists, this movie, likely to foster interest in its biblical antecedent, might well provide riveting and long-remembered photography to accompany the obligatory Easter Vigil reading from Exodus.