2014 - 150 minutes
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, Jeffrey Caine, Steven Zaillian
Starring: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, John Turturro, Aaron Paul, Ben Mendelsohn, Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kingsley
Christian Bale’s brooding reaches Biblical proportions in Exodus: Gods and Kings. The ex-Batman’s Moses (the Cloaked Crusader?) is just one piece of an odd and wholly unnecessary take on the Exodus story, which also includes a lot of white people wearing a lot of eyeliner to play Egyptians and tons of sweeping CGI shots of pyramids and the like. The mixture of source material and execution may be interesting as an oddity, but director Ridley Scott focuses on grandiosity that grows monotonous, while set-in-stone story beats hamstring any real innovation.
The highlights are pretty much note and verse from The Good Book. Moses and Ramses (Joel Edgerton) have been raised as brothers, each flourishing in Memphis, a magnificent city built on the backs of Hebrew slaves. When the truth regarding Moses’ Hebrew ancestry is revealed, new ruler Ramses has his adoptive brother exiled. Following an arduous journey through the desert, Moses marries, has a son, and becomes a shepherd. After a head injury, he is contacted by God at a burning bush, who tasks him to free the Hebrew slaves and serve his God and his people. With little to no hint of internal conflict, Moses rallies the slaves and wages a war of attrition against Ramses.
God gets more involved, plagues are visited upon Egypt, the Hebrews are sent packing, the Red Sea parts, Moses climbs a mountain and descends with some tablets…yada yada. The high points are problematic for several reasons, mostly because of a macro-level approach that favors the spectacle and overarching story over character. Only Edgerton creates a semblance of a personality as Ramses, perceiving himself as a god-like figure after rising to power and then becoming helpless in the face of a truly almighty adversary. Aaron Paul and Ben Kingsley add nothing to the Hebrew experience and exist to give Moses humans to talk to when needed. John Turturo, Sigourney Weaver, and Ben Mendelsohn all feel out of place as Egyptian figureheads.
Perhaps the only interesting portrayal is that of God visualized as a petulant child. Unfortunately, the visual doesn’t explore the notions of being omniscient or all-powerful. Also, any ambiguity established with Moses’ first vision of the God-child coming after a bump on the head, and the fact that no one else can see him, is undermined. Divinity is never called into question. On the Egyptian side, a scientist (Ewan Bremmer, also miscast) and High Priestess (Indira Varma), who explain and try to reverse the plagues, respectively, are presented as broad goofs.
The final hour of action is visually impressive, but in favoring the sheen of the effects over the soul of the story (this version of it crafted by four credited screenwriters), Exodus: Gods and Kings misses the mark. Instead of being awestruck by the rushing red water, the swarms of locusts, and the shadow of death that creeps on the first Passover, we’re in countdown mode, just waiting to get through the plagues and to the ultimate set piece of the Red Sea swallowing soldiers, horses, and chariots.
If you really want a well-written version of this story that sparks imagination and debate, whatever your views, read the book.