When I first heard of director Ridley Scott’s willingness to make a feature length interpretation of the story of Moses and his quest to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, I had my doubts of the outcome. Scott has not had a very good track record of making historically epic films with duds like 1492: Conquest of Paradise and Kingdom of Heaven in his resume. Armed with a cast of white actors to play the lead roles of Hebrew and ancient Egyptian characters, Ridley Scott sets out to retell the story of Moses no matter what the cost and what audience he alienates in the process. The portrayal of Moses which will no doubt leave religious audiences scratching their heads and others with little more than a visually stunning movie with little substance.
Moses (Christian Bale) is the adopted brother to future pharaoh Ramses II (Joel Edgerton) and chief military council of Egypt, under the Seti (John Turturro) the current pharaoh. Moses and Ramses are as close as can be and are sworn to protect each other from harm. The current ruler knows in his heart that his adopted son Moses would make a better heir to the throne than his own son, but this cannot be as Moses is not blood. A prophecy is spoken by Seti’s high priestess that during battle a true leader will be found as one of the men would save the other. Of course Moses would save Ramses and which would lead to dissension between the two brothers.
After Seti dies, Ramses ascends to power. After a visit to the Israelites to thwart a possible revolt, Moses’ true identity is revealed in a meeting with the elder Nun (Ben Kingsley), who insists that he is a Hebrew child sent down the river and raised by Egyptian parents to escape a purge of Hebrew children by the Egyptians. When Ramses finds out he is condemned and exiled. Wandering the land for a new purpose for his life and to seek a place to settle, Moses arrives in a small village and meets his future wife Zipporah (María Valverde) and raises a child. A simple life, one which suits the former warrior, but there is something pulling him back to his former land, something that will change Moses forever.
Nearly a decade after leaving Egypt, Moses comes face to face with God on the summit of Mount Sinai, who informs Moses of his need to return to Egypt and lead an army to free his people. With the help of Joshua (Aaron Paul) and a small army of Hebrews ready to fight for their freedom, Moses begins his quest to achieve God’s will. Fearing war, Moses pleads with Ramses to consider his proposal and free the slaves, but when Ramses refuses, Moses turns to God for the answers, but the response he receives is not one he expects and Moses must witness the wrath of God on the people he once called his. Fearing that time is running out, Mose must find a way to rescue his people and deliver them safely our of Egypt, but will Ramses bow to his former brother or will he defy his oath the keep him safe in order to defend his kingdom?
To his credit, Ridley Scott tries desperately to depict the events of the Book of Exodus into his interpretation of how these events would’ve come to be, the problem is, he takes too many liberties with his source material. From the re-imagining of Moses first visit from God to the parting of the Red Sea, Scott seems to believe that an updating of the original telling was needed by, more or less, explaining these events in a less than mystical way. This tactic is not one that will bode well for Scott as the core of his audience will be left feeling a bit cheated. The pacing of the film is also in question. The film is not as long as it could’ve been, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing, considering that Scott spends most of the film trying to cram the entirety of the Moses story into a 2 1/2 hour film. What he does spend most of his time doing is setting up his visual set pieces which are aesthetically grandiose but very little else.
Christian Bale is one of the lone bright spots in this film. The actor embraces the complexities of the Moses character and entrusts his instincts to flesh out just who Moses truly was. Each phase of Moses life is carefully defined by Bale’s impeccable acting style which gives a fresh take on the popular biblical character. Joel Edgerton has such an important role to this story, but it seems that, in some ways, his character is downplayed to depict a move feeble man instead of a vicious, power hungry dictator. The chemistry between Bale and Edgerton is enjoyable to watch as both actors try to best each other. Besides the two main characters, the ensemble, which includes Sigourney Weaver as Ramses’ scheming mother and Aaron Paul as Joshua, never gets the chance to develop much of a character arc and are given very little to shine.
Overall, Exodus: Gods and Kings is not a very good film. It’s liberties to the source material do very little to keep the audience engaged and its reliance on visual effects isn’t enough to save the film. If you are interested in the story of Moses, you’re better off reading the Book of Exodus or watching Cecil B DeMille’s The Ten Commandments cause Exodus: Gods and Kings isn’t very faithful.
3 out of 5
After Credit Scene?