********* 7 out of 10 *********
Director: Ridley Scott
Actors: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton
This year has seen a resurgence of the religious-themed faith-based movies. The lower budget movies such as Son of God, God’s Not Dead and Heaven is for Real surprised many and were financially successful. We also saw the release of the bigger budget Noah in March, directed by Darren Aronofsky and starring Russell Crowe, re-narrating the old tale on Noah’s Ark. And now we have something on an even bigger scale, the $140 million Exodus: Gods and Kings directed by Ridley Scott, narrating the tale of Moses and his rescue of Hebrews from Egypt. The biblical tale of Moses as told in the Book of Exodus has been part of Hollywood narrative for many years. The most notable one being Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 epic, The Ten Commandments, followed by Disney’s animated version of 1998, The Prince of Egypt. It is highly likely that you have seen one of these two, and so there is nothing much new in terms of story that Exodus: Gods and Kings offers. But Ridley Scott makes up for that with amazing visual effects and some powerful performances by its lead actors.
Exodus: Gods and Kings opens with an adult Moses (Christian Bale) in the court of the aging Pharaoh of Egypt (John Turturro). Moses is a General and the best friend and advisor to the Pharaoh’s whimsical and egoistic son Ramses (Joel Edgerton). The Pharaoh sees Moses as the better leader of the two, but once he dies, Ramses takes over the crown. Later on, when Ramses learns that Moses is in fact a Hebrew, he has him banished from his kingdom. From thereon begins Moses’ journey as an ordinary man, no longer the prince of Egypt, and soon to be the prophet for the enslaved Hebrews of Egypt.
Ridley Scott chose to tell the story from the middle, and let the part of how the Hebrew child came to be raised in the Pharaoh’s palace emerge later as a narrative. It wasn’t a bad idea as the story is already well-known and even after excluding this bit, there is still a lot to tell as reflected in the 150-minute runtime of this movie. But in doing so, Ridley Scott and his team of scriptwriters (the writing credits are shared by four writers) missed out on one important aspect of this story — the initial bond between Moses and Ramses. The two who grew together almost as brothers needed to have a camaraderie between them which is clearly missing in Ridley Scott’s movie. The screenplay lacks a humane touch to it, as it hardly creates a strong bond between any of the characters that we can feel, be it between Moses and Ramses, or Moses and his wife and son, and even between Moses and his Hebrew followers. The dialogues for such a grand historical tale are also a letdown with usage of words like “economic standpoint” and “effective at killing” diminishing the joy of watching an age-old tale that occurred centuries back.
But take nothing away from the splendor of the visual effects which is the main reason to watch the movie. Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski (who has worked before with Ridley Scott on Alice in Wonderland and Prometheus) and production designer Arthur Max (Gladiator, American Gangster, Prometheus) are the biggest heroes of the film. And credit to Ridley Scott on dreaming of something so visually stimulating. The movie has a rich visual feel to it, be it the attire, or the monuments, or the palatial buildings. The sharp contrast between the richness of the Pharaoh’s palace and the humble dwellings of the Hebrews comes out distinctly. The plagues that attack the empire are shown in much luscious detail, and whether they captivate you or make you cringe, they do leave a strong impression. The classic chase scene to the Red Sea is another grand highlight of the film, a scene worthy of the entire Imax ticket cost. These wonderfully chalked out scenes give a very thrilling touch to Exodus: Gods and Kings and act as the heartbeat of the movie.
The movie’s acting performances are solid, as you would expect from such a cast. Christian Bale is striking as Moses, a confident leader who has his moments of doubt and worry. He has a very strong physical presence, which grabs your attention whenever he is on screen, and that makes him such an effective actor. Joel Edgerton is brilliant as the slightly twisted Ramses; he has a hidden ferociousness within him that unravels as the movie moves forward, he is very expressive with his eyes which gives him a crazy appearance, and he has an imposing personality suiting that of a Pharaoh. Ben Kingsley brings more quality to the screen in his role as the elderly Jewish leader and John Turturro gives the movie a bright start with his effective portrayal of Ramses’ father. The most fascinating casting has to be that of a British child actor Issac Andrews who plays the role of God (or His messenger). It is a great twist to the original tale, but it is a pleasant one, and the moments between Christian Bale and this child are the screenplay’s strongest sections. Sigourney Weaver is wasted in her brief role as Ramses’ mother (she might have taken this role for old time’s sake!), Aaron Paul is lost in his role of Joshua who follows Moses, and Maria Valverde has a bigger role as Moses’ wife but not a very well-written one.
Exodus: Gods and Kings is not the perfect movie that it could have been. Well, Ridley Scott is not the same director who once gave us Gladiator. The movie has already been clouded with controversies on its “white” casting; also, Scott’s attempts to rationalize the “miracles” in this tale may not go down well with some. But despite the weaknesses in Exodus: Gods and Kings, Ridley Scott still delivers a grand feel to whole narrative, thanks to the amazing and stylish visual effects. We go for many reasons to watch a movie, and at times, to be enthralled by the visual effects is one of them. So on that count itself, Exodus: Gods and Kings is a delight to watch in the theatres.