If there was ever a director to humanize a Bible story, it would be an agnostic — so ready or not, here comes Ridley Scott’s take on Moses in Exodus: Gods and Kings. I’m not much for religion myself either, so I was very interested to see how Scott would present the story of the famed Egyptian and his mission to free his people. Delivering on a grand scale, Scott has teamed up with four writers to give a far more realistic depiction of ancient times and question whether Moses was in fact, following orders from God, or simply suffering a concussion. Does he give any kind of answer? Thankfully, he leaves a few things up to the viewer.
In 1300 BC, Memphis, Egypt, Moses (Christian Bale) and Ramses (Joel Edgerton) love each other as brothers. Taken in as a baby by Seti (John Torturro), and now grown, Moses and Ramses fight side-by-side, and are even given each other’s swords as gifts after a prophecy proclaims that one will save the other during battle and become a great leader. During a trip to Pithom, while meeting with Viceroy Hegep (Ben Mendelsohn), a slave named Joshua (Aaron Paul) leads Moses to speak with Nun (Ben Kingsley), who informs him he is Hebrew, sent by his sister Miriam (Tara Fitzgerald) down the river, to be raised by the Pharaohs. Disbelieving Nun’s story, he returns to Memphis to find Seti on his deathbed.
After Seti passes, Hegep shows up to inform Ramses about Moses’s true lineage and Queen Tuya (Sigourney Weaver) has him ostracized. While traveling through the desert, Moses winds up in Midian, where he takes a wife in Zipporah (Maria Valverde). Nine years later, Moses is rounding up some sheep on God’s Mountain and hits his head during a landslide. Here, he has a vision, of a burning bush and a messenger of God in the form of a boy named Malak (Isaac Andrews). Now, Moses must step up to save his Hebrew people, teaching them the art of war to attack the Egyptians prompting Malak to unleash the 10 plagues before the final mass exodus leads them all to the Red Sea for one final showdown.
Religion aside, Exodus: Gods and Kings works wonders as grand scale entertainment. Filled with spectacular effects and wincing brutality, it’s a wonder the film skirts by with a PG-13 rating. From a vicious crocodile attack turning the water into blood to swarming locusts to the death of every firstborn, Scott and his writers quartet of writers (Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, Jeffrey Caine, and Oscar-winner Steve Zaillian) never hold back from the atrocities. Let alone that we’re pitted right in the middle of the chaos in a stunning use of 3D. Scott is definitely one the better users of the format, letting the third dimension immerse you in an ancient land, not just as a gimmick having objects leap from the screen.
The cast helped lend a definite air of realism, with Bale showing he’s still much more than The Dark Knight. He never lets his performance wander too far into crazy, providing sympathy for a man who really just wants to set his enslaved people free from tyranny. As the arrested development-challenged Ramses, Edgerton makes the man-child more likeable than you’d think without turning him into an outright villain. As for the supporting cast, the young Andrews and Kingsley fare the best, with Paul proving he was cast for having a fantastic set of crazy eyes, but poor Weaver is completely wasted and featured in only a handful of scenes. Let alone that she never once sports any kind of accent whatsoever.
For anyone looking for a more thoughtful and grounded presentation of Biblical lore, Exodus: Gods and Kings is the perfect kind of film that never turns into Bible-thumping, nor strays into any kind of sacrilege — it strikes the perfect balance. And in a year finding fewer than normal outstanding films, Exodus may not be one of the year’s best, but it’s definitely one of the year’s better.
Photos courtesy 20th Century Fox