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Hard Times In Memphis – “Exodus: Gods and Kings”

Picture Credit: 20th Century Fox

Picture Credit: 20th Century Fox

Let My People Go.”

Those words have inspired spirituals and songs for years. The story behind those songs, that of the freeing of the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt, isn’t as well known in popular culture. This story is the focus of the new movie, Exodus: Gods and Kings released on December 12th, 2014. The film stars Christian Bale as Moses and Joel Edgerton as Ramses the Great, Pharaoh of Egypt. Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kingsley, Ben Mendelsohn, Isaac Andrews, and Aaron Paul also star.

The movie opens in 1300 BC in the Egyptian city of Memphis. Princes Ramses and Moses are advised by their father, Seti I, of a prophecy that one will save the other and that the savior will eventually lead. When the brothers go to war against the Hittites, Moses saves Ramses’s life, causing a rift between them as the prophecy is fulfilled. The Pharaoh tells Moses that he doesn’t believe in Ramses is a worthy leader; he trusts Moses more but can’t make him his heir. The Pharaoh assigns Ramses to Pithom to deal with the corrupt viceroy Hegep, but Moses goes as a peace offering to his brother. Moses meets Nun (Kingsley), who tells him that he was born a Hebrew. Angy and disillusioned, Moses kills two guards and leaves Pithom. Two of the Hebrew slaves sell the trade the knowledge to the Hegep, who informs Ramses.

Ramses forces Moses to admit the truth and the new Pharaoh exiles his former brother to the desert, expecting him to die. Moses travels east where he meets a tribe of shepherds. He falls in love with Zipporah and they marry, allowing Moses to put his past behind him. Nine years later he is injured in a rockslide and meets Malak (Isaac Andrews) the avatar of God. Malak challenges the former general to return to Memphis and lead his people to freedom by challenging Ramses’s power, setting the brothers on a collision course that changes them, and Egypt, forever.

Even with the wonderful depictions of the Ten Plagues of Egypt, and the parting of the Red Sea (an excellent scene) this movie lacks depth in several places. Joel Edgerton’s Ramses didn’t show any real emotion until the climax of the story and I’d stopped caring about him by then. Bale makes Moses a convincing leader but there is no sense of danger for him, no idea that he might fail in this quest. Ben Kingsley and Sigourney Weaver are criminally underused while Aaron Paul’s Joshua quietly questions his leader’s sanity when he catches Moses talking to himself while Moses speaks to Malak. Ben Mendelsohn’s sycophantic and conniving Hegep was well–played. When the climax of the movie arrives, you can’t wait to see him get just desserts.

The standout performance in the movie goes to Isaac Andrews, who not only holds his own in his scenes with Christian Bale, but manages to make God downright scary. He does not play games. Even when Moses wants to stop, believing that things are out of hand, Malak refuses to bend. He practically overwhelms Moses with his desire to humble and crush the Egyptians for their treatment of the Hebrews and their worship of false gods (and you’re never quite sure which one angers him more). He also does a great job of alternately praising and shaming Moses into action on behalf of his people.

The Good: Great visuals (the Plagues and the parting of the Red Sea), Andrews, Bale, Kingsley.

The Bad: Thin story, Edgerton performance, under-using of heavyweight talents.

The Verdict: Wait for the DVD on this one, folks.

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