Exodus: Gods And Kings(2014)
- RatedPG13 /GenreDrama
Exodus: Gods and Kings
If it is not superheroes or remakes, the other thing that Hollywood loves is a biblical epic.
Since the Golden Age of cinema, Hollywood has time and again turned to the Good Book for inspiration.
Whether it be Cecil B DeMille's lavish extravaganza ‘The Ten Commandments’ or the Academy Award’s most awarded film of all time, ‘Ben Hur’, or Disney’s ‘Prince of Egypt’, Scripture-inspired movies have always made good money in the box office.
The year 2014 alone has seen a handful of biblical productions, such as ‘Noah’, ‘Son Of God’ and now, ‘Exodus: Gods And Kings’, with Ridley Scott taking on the Book of Exodus.
Although Scott did a magnificent job in reviving the swords-and-sandals genre with his 2000 epic ‘Gladiator’, ‘Exodus’ is a whole different animal, one with a touch of the divine.
Like Darren Aronofsky before him with the polarising ‘Noah’, ‘Exodus’ is an epic that could have been easily lost in the desert spectacle, but Scott manages to balance things just right, making it a thrilling and touching cinematic experience.
INTO THE THICK OF THE ACTION
Photo: 20th Century Fox
For ‘Exodus’, Scott eschews the usual “baby in the basket” origin story and viewers are plunged right into the thick of things with an adult Moses (Christian Bale) as a favourite general of Pharoah Seti (John Turturro), and also best friend and adopted brother to Pharoah-in-waiting, Ramses (Joel Edgerton).
During a battle with the Hittites, Moses inadvertently fulfils a mysterious prophecy by saving Ramses’ life. Of course, Moses and Ramses’ relationship is never the same post-battle.
Shortly after, on an official visit to the city of Pithom, a slave elder called Nun (Ben Kingsley) surreptitiously reveals to Moses that he is really a Jew.
A devious nobleman privy to this secret outs Moses and he is banished from royal court into the desert, where he meets future wife Zipporah (Maria Valverde).
An accident while herding sheep leads Moses to encounter God and he is commanded to go back to Egypt to liberate his people.
All the drama of the biblical tale seems to be in place: the struggle of the Jewish people in Egyptian slavery and their liberation by Moses, the rivers of blood, plagues and calamities from heaven, and the inevitable parting of the Red Sea.
Scott’s version of the events is far from literal, yet it is suffused with the awe and terror appropriate to a godly wrath.
MOSES’ FAITH TESTED
Photo: 20th Century Fox
But what makes Scott’s ‘Exodus’ different is the representation of Moses as a man full of self-doubt and skeptical of faith, who then finds himself on a spiritual journey.
Bale has no trouble playing the brooding and conflicted soldier who is humbled through his exile.
Interestingly, Scott takes a bold step in channelling Moses’ connection with God as well as the movie’s manifestation of the Supreme Being.
The God here is not the booming voice of ‘The Ten Commandments’ and certainly does not possess the cool gravitas of Morgan Freeman in ‘Bruce Almighty’/‘Evan Almighty’, but is a pre-pubescent boy.
The divine child is exactly that: a child – testy, stubborn and vengeful, perhaps an apt representation of the wrath of the Old Testament God.
Another curious and controversial aspect of the film is how it takes a stab at the issue of divinity itself, clumsily hopping around the burning bush as to whether or not Moses has the Almighty on speed-dial, or just suffering the effects of a concussion.
This intriguing facet may confound the faithful, but is perhaps its standout element.
Artistic licence aside, the tale is hampered by weak performances despite its formidable cast.
The movie squanders the dramatic tension between Moses and Ramses who were tight as brothers.
The usually riveting Bale, despite filling up the screen with his presence, seems to have just transplanted his Moses from Gotham City.
Australian actor Edgerton gives a competent portrayal as Ramses, but elsewhere, Sigourney Weaver’s conniving Queen Tuya is sorely underwritten, as is Aaron Paul’s Joshua. As wives of Moses and Ramses, the women merely serve as accessories on screen.
‘EPIC WORLD’ BUILDER
Photo: 20th Century Fox
Scott’s talent in creating “epics” is unquestionably there, judging by the opulence of the Egyptian royal palace, the slums of Pithom and the construction of the pyramids.
He renders the 10 plagues in a seamless and realistic montage that is intense and graphic. He also conjures an interpretation of how the fleeing Moses and masses manage to cross the Red Sea before the waters consume the pursuing Egyptians.
However, Scott paints himself in the corner when he cannot come up with a logical explanation for the deaths of every first-born in the kingdom.
It is not easy to figure out what card ‘Exodus’ is playing, with one hand deferential to the sacred text and the other, demythologising the story with a counter-narrative.
Ultimately, ‘Exodus’ will be seen as an attempt to deliver a big-budget blockbuster that appeals to the masses, whatever their creed.
‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’ opens 11 December 2014