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Siraj Syed


Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 

 

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Exodus-Gods and Kings, Review: Wrath and bloodbath

Exodus-Gods and Kings, Review: Wrath and bloodbath

Exodus is the name of a long novel by Leon Uris, published in 1958, about the establishing of the modern state of Israel, and set in 1947, but this film goes back some 2300 years, to THE Exodus. It was to be titled just Exodus, but the copyright to the name was already taken, so the ‘Gods and Kings’ sub-title had to be added. Exodus-Gods and Kings is an epic on the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt 300-400 years before Christ, led by Moses, as related in the Old Testament--Book of Exodus, but as interpreted by present-day ‘epic-maker’ legendary director Ridley Scott (77), who is known for his time machine forays, both back and forth—check out Alien (1979), Blade Runner (1982), Gladiator (2000), Robin Hood (2010) and Prometheus (2012).

Though raised as siblings by Queen Tuya (Sigourney Weaver) and Pharaoh Seti (John Turturro), Moses (Christian Bale) and Ramses (also spelt Rhamses, Joel Edgerton) are ultimately separated by fate and ideology, forever changing themselves and the course of history in the process. As they grow into their respective roles as national leaders, Moses will need to soften Ramses' hardened heart through demonstrations of God's absolute power, including his wrath, in the shape bloodbaths and plagues, if he is to lead the Hebrew people out of slavery in Egypt, towards freedom and the land of Israel.

Written by Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, Jeffrey Caine and Oscar-winner Steve Zaillian, the screenplay seems to be the work of mainly Zaillian (Schindler’s List, Moneyball, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Hannibal and American Gangster). The last two outings were with Scott at the megaphone. Dialogue includes mixed accents and American style two-line ‘smart’ exchanges. Liberties with the scriptures are taken with great abandon. They are omni-present in all three forms--purely factual ‘errors’, matters of interpretation and abundant cinematic license. Examples: God appears to Moses in the shape of a child, the Ten Commandments are carved on stone by Moses himself, as dictated by the child (God) and the parting of the Red Sea is not so much a parting as an alternation between low tide and humungous tidal waves. Incidentally, the slaves of Egypt are always referred to as Hebrews, never once as Jews. And let us not even talk about Moses’s (Biblical) stammering, and being 80 years-old when he extricates his followers from the strangle-hold of the Pharaoh.

If you trace the Biblical genre from 1956’s The Ten Commandments to Noah (2014), you will find many shades common. This may be partly attributable to the commonality of the subject, but Scott has certainly been influenced by two films at least: The Ten Commandments and Ben Hur (1959). Charlton Heston’s Moses seems to be the prototype for Bale’s get-up and demeanour while Edgerton’s bad man is an amalgam of Yul Brynner and Stephen Boyd (Ben Hur). Also, the battle scenes too remind you of TTC.

While one is not condoning or condemning the licenses taken, there was pretty little else that Scott could add to such a familiar tale. Facing flak for alterations that border on the blasphemous, he has stuck to a straight narrative confined to the time frame relevant to the story, 1,300 effect shots like the plagues showered upon the Egyptians and the ‘parting’ of the Red Sea, to add the spectacle and awe, and a150-minute duration to round off the proceedings involving a dozen main characters at least. It is not Scott at his best, yet Exodus is engaging fare.

Casting for such subjects is a delicate art: stars v/s newcomers, Americans v/s other ethnicities, physique v/s acting ability, and so on. Result? Welsh-born Christian Bale, Australian Joel Edgerton, American Sigourney Weaver, half Indian half-Brit Ben Kingsley,  

Italian American John Turturro and Indira Varma, who is mixed Indian, Italian and Swiss. Lastly, there is María Valverde, Spanish.  Batman Bale and Edgerton are good rivals, with Bale’s toga and Edgerton’s kohl (kaajal/surma) laced eyes adding an extra dimension. Weaver (Avatar) has a relatively small role and makes the most of it. Ben Kingsley (Gandhi, Iron Man 3) is a bit stiff and too ramrod as Nun, the Hebrew who recognises Moses as the promised saviour. John Turturro (Transformers, Dark of the Moon) does a very good job as Seti, a distinct improvement on his Fading Gigolo role.

Indira Varma 35, is still known as the Kama Sutra girl after her 1996 debut, just out of Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), in Mira Nair’s Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love, banned in the very land where the treatise was written--India. An only child, her parents, who met at art school in London, were both immigrants. Her father was Indian, her mother is Swiss, but part Genoese. Indira struts through her act with finesse and flair. María Valverde as Zippora/Tzipora, daughter of Jethro, Prince of Midian, and wife of Moses, is someone to keep a lookout for. She was born in Madrid. At the age of 16 she starred in The Weakness of the Bolshevik, for which she won the 2003 Goya Award for Best New Actress and was also seen in Melissa P. and Cracks, produced by Ridley Scott and directed by his daughter, Jordan Scott. Her more recent work includes Broken Horses and 400 Boys

Music goes a long way in setting the mood in historicals, and Exodus is no exception. Spanish composer Alberto Iglesias, who has received three Academy Award nominations for his music for The Constant Gardener, The Kite Runner and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, needs to be complimented on using recurring short themes/ballads with good effect. An epic set in 2300-2400 BCE relies heavily upon researched and carefully crafted sets, and in the large team of Art Directors, one finds one name on top: Ravi Bansal. Indians will be happy to see that sets in Exodus, are indeed glorious and stupendous. Finally, a word about the 3D: images come right at you and pan across your face, sometimes coming too close for comfort. But then, that is the idea, isn’t it?

Rating: ***

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t-8YsulfxVI

(Ridley dedicates this film to his brother Tony, who committed suicide in 2012, after battling cancer. Tony Scott directed Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop II, Crimson Tide, and Enemy of the State, among other film and TV productions).

 

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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.


Bandra West, Mumbai

India



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