True Review - Exodus: Gods and Kingsby Niharika Puri December 5 2014, 5:41 pm Estimated Reading Time: 3 mins, 26 secs
Critics Rating: 2 Stars*
Cast: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Aaron Paul, Ben Kingsley, John Turturro, Ben Mendelsohn.
Direction: Ridley Scott
Produced: Peter Chernin, Dylan Clark, Ridley Scott, Jenno Topping
Written: Steven Zaillian
Duration: 150 Mins
Ridley Scott’s expansive magnum opus, inspired by the Biblical Exodus comes crashing like the tidal waves of the Red Sea, despite some stunning visuals and good performances.
Moses (Christian Bale) is a general in the army of Pharaoh Seti (John Turturro) and regarded by the prince Ramses (Joel Edgerton) as a brother in spirit, if not by blood. A soothsayer’s prophecy indicates that he who saves Ramses’ life in battle will be destined to lead. Going by the Biblical myth, it is all but evident that Moses does so.
When Ramses takes over the throne in Memphis after his father, Moses ascends to the post of his advisor. The Egyptians continue to rule and the Hebrew slaves continue to remain subjugated, as they have for 400 years. Ramses and Moses’ friendship hinges on tenuous grounds when the latter’s Hebrew roots are revealed. This leads to his exile, a calling for his faith and the eventual Exodus.
Like Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, Ridley Scott takes on an ancient legend with large doses of creative liberties and self-indulgence. Exodus begins on a shaky note, with awkward banter between the two protagonists to establish their equation. An impressive battle scene later, the film lags into conversations between characters. The crucial kick-off point for the story was the oppression and exploitation of Hebrew slaves. Unfortunately, there are not too many scenes which elaborate on the daily brutality meted out to the workers.
The revelation that Moses is Hebrew leads to repercussions at a dining table scene, the treatment of which is like a soap opera. It is a pity that Ben Kingley and Sigourney Weaver’s characters are limited to just adding to the drama instead of having any significance in the rest of the story. Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul is barely recognisable or visible as Joshua, the future leader of Israel.
A crucial twist where Moses kills an Egyptian slavemaster for beating a Hebrew has been omitted from the plot. This murder was to trigger Moses’ self-imposed exile to Midian, where he meets Zipporah, whom he later married. He does traverse barren land to stumble upon the location, but that is under different circumstances.
The God of Israel is depicted in the Bible as a burning bush. In the film, the deity takes the form of a little boy, though there is indeed a burning bush in the background when he first appears. When asked who he is by Moses, the God powerfully proclaimed: “I am who I am.” In the film, the boy declares “I am” in a crisp British accent, which sounds abrupt and watered down as compared to the source material.
Also conspicuously absent as part of an important imagery associated with Moses is the staff he carried with him, mentioned after his first encounter with God. It is this staff that is instrumental in helping him perform miracles, the greatest of all being the parting of the Red Sea. In the film, the epic crescendo feels anticlimactic when the water, instead of parting merely trickles, allowing the followers to escape to the promised land of Canaan. The sea rages and foams again for the pursuing Egyptian army, but despite the special effects the sequence disappoints.
The second half draws the focus from Moses and emphasises the destructive forces that plague Egypt with the ruler’s non-compliance to free slaves. Those scenes are long-drawn and compromise on the screen-time that could have been used to portray Moses’ journey from a general to a prophet.
Neither Biblically authentic nor fast-paced, Exodus can be viewed only for its imposing visuals. If you are interested in a more faithful retelling of the narrative, opt for Ten Commandments (1956), which may seem a lot to digest at three hours, but it is as long as this film feels.