Tag Archives: jews

Review – Exodus: Gods And Kings (12a) [2014]

Exodus - title banner

Star Rating: 3/5

Director:

Cast:

  • Christian Bale – The Machinist, The Fighter, The Dark Knight I-III, American Hustle, The Big Short
  • Joel Edgerton – Smokin’ Aces, Warrior, Zero Dark Thirty, The Gift
  • John Turturro – Anger Management, Transformers I-III, The Taking of Pelham 123, Hands of Stone
  • Aaron Paul – Mission: Impossible III, The Last House On The Left, Breaking Bad, Need For Speed, Eye In The Sky
  • Sigourney Weaver – Alien I-V, Ghostbusters I & II, Paul, The Cabin In The Woods, A Monster Calls
  • Ben Mendelsohn – The New World, Killing Them Softly, The Dark Knight Rises, Mississippi Grind
  • María Valverde – Body Confusion, The Anarchist’s Wife, The Liberator, Broken Horses
  • Ben Kingsley – Schindler’s List, Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, Hugo, Iron Man III, The DictatorKnight of Cups
  • Indira Varma – Rome, Basic Instinct II, Silk, Game of Thrones, Caesar
  • Hiam Abbass – Munich, Lemon Tree, A Bottle In The Gaza Sea, Nothing Escapes My Eyes

Music Composer:

In my review of Prometheus in 2012, I wrote that since Gladiator came out in 2000 all of Ridley Scott’s films have not been good enough for a director who once made Alien, Blade Runner and Gladiator. Since 2000, Scott has consistently made disappointing films like Kingdom of Heaven, Robin Hood and Prometheus, while 2013’s The Counsellor was rotten to the core. So bearing in mind Scott’s portfolio over the last fourteen years, what could one expect with Exodus: Gods And Kings?

Pharaoh Rameses II (Joel Edgerton), the villain of the Exodus story, looking splendid and glorious.

Pharaoh Rameses II (Joel Edgerton), the villain of the Exodus story, looking splendid and glorious.

The film starts with (the anachronistic method) of a transcript, giving viewers the political context of the movie, as well as Moses’ position in Ancient Egypt. Subsequently, the film centres round Moses of the Torah and we follow him (Christian Bale) as a young adult living among the elites in Cairo; through his exile and marriage to Zipporah (María Valverde); to finally taking his place as the first leader of the enslaved Israelite/Jewish people and leading them out of Ancient Egypt via the Red Sea.

Exodus: Gods And Kings is a lively adaptation of the famous Biblical tale. The film is not absolutely historically accurate (especially if one swears by the Quran) and contains much artistic license. Some of the inaccuracies are avoidable, for example the number of years that the Israelites were enslaved for. But others inaccuracies are unavoidable and require the artistic license that Scott employs because there is no historical record of it; for example, where and what Moses did in exile.

If one can overcome these inaccuracies, one can appreciate many of the enjoyable elements of the movie. Scott impressively designs Ancient Egypt to give viewers a feel for how ancient Cairo and the slave city of Piton probably looked like; the battle at the start of the film is really good (although, strikingly similar to the battle in the opening scenes of Gladiator); the splitting of the Red Sea is refreshingly different from the conventional story (although, one recently saw a better example of what the film achieves in Interstellar); and the CGI plagues and godly miracles are emphatic and vividly memorable.

Moses (Christian Bale) speaking with Nun (Ben Kingsley), one of the enslaved leaders of the Jewish tribes in Piton, about the need to escape Egypt.

Moses (Christian Bale) speaking with Nun (Ben Kingsley), one of the enslaved leaders of the Jewish tribes in Piton, about the need to escape Egypt.

Furthermore, Exodus depicts Moses in an innovative and interesting way that is seldom discussed. This is important as Moses was a human being (who we know little about), so his (real or possible) flaws should be laid bare for us so we can assess what sort of a man he was. Exodus does this in a pseudo-intelligent manner and Scott should rightly be recognised for trying to do something different.

However, sadly, Scott undermines his idea of Moses, as well as the other key individuals from this period, with his poor choice of casting. Forget the racism issue (which Scott daftly fuelled with his lamentable responses); none of the actors in the main roles look their part. Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Ben Mendelsohn, Aaron Paul and Sigourney Weaver do not look like they are Ancient Egyptian or Mediterranean, and no amount of spray tan and make-up can change that. And, also, what was Scott thinking when he chose Christian Bale to be Moses? How can Batman be Moses? It just isn’t believable, and if viewers cannot believe in the characters, it is an uphill struggle for the cast to come across convincingly.

In fairness to the cast, they are handicapped by the wretchedly written script that relegates all, but Moses, to one-dimensional characters. The biggest victim of the script is the main villain: Pharaoh Rameses II, played by Joel Edgerton. If Scott’s intention had been to make Rameses be Exodus’s Commodus, Scott fails miserably. One may have loathed Commodus by the end of Gladiator, but that was only because Scott gave him/Joaquin Phoenix the chance to be loathed. Scott does not give Rameses/Edgerton such a chance, consigning Rameses to a pathetic, ranting idiot, who is unfit to rule. This is a shame (and gratingly frustrating) because it is a waste of a talent like Edgerton, because it is contrary to history, and most significantly because one feels nothing towards Rameses by the end.

The plague of hail. This is one of the ten plagues that rains down on Egypt after Rameses refuses Moses' request to let his people go.

The plague of hail. This is one of the ten plagues that rains down on Egypt after Rameses refuses Moses’ request to let his people go.

Speaking of the end, it takes an Earth’s turn to get there. One cares so little for the characters in Exodus that the movie’s 150-minutes running-time feels like double that. To think that Gladiator, at 155-minutes, was longer than Exodus, is surprising as it felt shorter. This speaks volumes for just how much of a masterpiece Gladiator was, and how far Scott’s stock has fallen as a director since 2000.

Overall, Exodus: Gods And Kings is not a terrible film. One may object to the historical inaccuracies within the film, yet this cannot be helped due to the limited amount of source material available on the subject. Instead, one should enjoy the aspects of the movie that have been done well. That is, if one can overcome Scott’s glaring casting errors and the poverty of the script that leaves even Christian Bale, one of the most talented actors of the current era, struggling for conviction. But, then again, what did one expect from Exodus? Another film of Gladiator’s quality? Don’t be ridiculous! Just be grateful that Exodus is not another Prometheus.

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Review – In Darkness (15) [2012]

Star Rating: 4.5/5

In Jerusalem’s Holocaust Memorial Museum, Yad VaShem, there is a section honouring the Righteous Gentiles/the Righteous Among The Nations. During World War II (WWII), it is known that almost twenty-four thousand non-Jewish people risked their lives in Nazi-occupied Europe to hide and save Jews from Hitler’s murderous Final Solution. Leopold/Poldek Socha was one such courageous individual. In a powerful but unflattering portrayal of Poldek, the Jews he saved, and the era, In Darkness commemorates the bravery of this unconventional hero.

Poldek Socha (Robert Wieckiewicz) leads thirteen Jews through the caverns of the stinking sewers to find them a safe haven from their Nazi persecutors.

In Darkness is a low-budget Polish film that centres round Poldek Socha (Robert Wieckiewicz – The Dark House, Zero, Lech Walesa), a Polish sewer worker in Lvov. Using his extensive knowledge of the town’s sewer system, he hides thirteen Jews in the sewers just before the Lvov Ghetto is liquidated by the Nazis. For fourteen months, Poldek cares for his Jews. He brings them food and other essentials, until the Soviets liberate Lvov in July 1943, when he leads them to safety.

The storyline for In Darkness is straightforward and well put together. At 145 minutes, the film might seem a little long and repetitive, but the distressing nature of the movie ensures that it is not tedious at all.

The intensity of the Jew-hatred, the noise of rapid firing machine-guns and the sight of brutality against innocent people creates an intimidating atmosphere. Like tension in a string, one can feel the Jews’ fear of the Nazis and the local Polish population. The darkness of the sewers and the shaking of the camera enhance the film’s edginess by making the movie seem claustrophobic. At times, notably when Poldek moves the Jews from one excrement-running tunnel to another, the movie becomes almost unbearable to watch.

Poldek's friend, Bortnik (Michal Zurawski). Bortnik is the feared leader of the Ukrainian Nazis in Lvov.

Yet, the ending is probably the most awful and poignant part of the film. As the euphoria of saving the thirteen Jews is at its height, one learns how Poldek died and what was said at his funeral. It should leave anyone with decency sickened! Alas, it’s as unsurprising as it is shocking; a reflection of the profound levels of antisemitism in pre- and post-WWII Poland.

But was Poldek not part of the same society? In Darkness sheds light on his personality and shows him to be a very different kind of hero to Oscar Schindler (played superbly by Liam Neeson in the brilliant 1993 film, Schindler’s List). Whilst Schindler was the dashing businessman who became horrified by the Nazis’ treatment of the Jews, Poldek was not handsome and was quite indifferent to the cruelty dished out by the Nazis. Indeed, director Agnieszka Holland (The Secret Garden, The Wire) reveals on numerous occasions during the film that Poldek was just an ordinary man doing his mundane job and held deep-rooted antisemitic views.

It is not even clear why Poldek ends up hiding and saving the thirteen Jews. Is it because they pay him nicely, so he can afford jewellery for his wife, Wanda (Kinga Preis – The Dark House)? Is it because Poldek knows the unspeakable fate that awaits him and his family if he informs the authorities of the Jews? Or is it out of a sense of moral righteousness? Perhaps not even Poldek, himself, knew. Robert Wieckiewicz vividly captures Poldek’s constant vacillations, as well as his fear of being found out by the local Poles and the Nazis, both of which are always eager to turn in more Jews and their collaborators.

They may be holed up in the dank sewers, but the Jews still manage to celebrate the festival of Hannukkah right under the noses of the Nazis.

Although the cast play very well, Poldek, the people of Lvov and the Nazis are all given critical depictions throughout the movie. But what is more interesting is that Holland has not left the terrified Jews off the hook either. She shows them to be people who are grateful and ungrateful to Poldek; treacherous and edgy among themselves; plus lustful, amongst other things. Hence, In Darkness portrays the thirteen Jews as real people, feeling the pressures of their situation. Again, this is a stark contrast to the Jews in Schindler’s List and other Holocaust movies, like The Pianist or The Boy With The Striped Pyjamas, which depicts them as models of immaculate behaviour.

Over-all, In Darkness is an exceptional but harrowing film. It not only enables us to understand the period, it forces us to experience the torment that the thirteen Jews in the sewers endured for fourteen months. Above-all, In Darkness points out why Poldek Socha should be immortalised among the Righteous Gentiles in Yad VaShem. Despite his antisemitic sentiments and morally dubious reasons for initially hiding the Jews, he showed himself to be a hero. Not a fashionable hero like Oscar Schindler, but one who was willing to stand up to evil and put his, and his family’s, life on the line to save innocent people. Amen!

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