I actually went and ditch my initial review of the latest Ridley Scott movie, Exodus: Gods and Kings and thought that the movie deserved a re-look. So here’s version 2 of the review, and mind you, this is not spoiler-free: In this latest silver screen iteration of the Book of Exodus, Christian Bale stars as Moses, adopted and raised by the Pharaoh Seti 1 (played by John Turturro, although it’s hard to take him seriously after the Transformer movies) as a brother and Egyptian prince alongside the future pharaoh, Ramses, played by Joel Edgerton.
A schism starts to form between the two brothers, no thanks to predictions from a seer and the events in an ensuing battle. Cue ancient Egyptian throne room politics and Moses sets out to placate a Jewish slave rebellion on behalf of his brother only to find out that he is actually a Jew by birth. Moses dismisses this at first after being told by a Jewish elder played by Gandhi, I mean Ben Kingsley.. News of this travels to the newly minted Pharaoh who then places Moses in exile. The movie then follows familiar Bible territory as Moses journeys to Midian, meets Jethro, and marries Zipporah and begets a son.
While trying to get some wayward sheep back inline, Moses gets caught in a landslide on a sacred mountain and then encounters the burning bush AND Ridley Scott’s version of God, who takes the form of a young, petulant, pissed-off child. If you think that’s an uncomfortable bit of business, there’s more. Having been told that God needs a general, Moses heads back to Egypt to come to terms with him being a Jew (and meeting his brother, Aaron, in the process) and to cause an insurrection among the Jews in order to get them set free.
With the insurrection failing to achieve its goals, God decides to take action, unleashing the first plague in which a crocodile frenzy turns the Nile red. Moses confronts Ramses on the matter of freeing his people but gets nothing out of it. Cue some creative license as both Moses and Aaron, two key people described in the Bible in the effort to free the Jews from the yoke of slavery, take the back seat as God takes matters in His own hands by unleashing successive plagues. Moses is stuck with standing around the mountain side watching the plagues get unleashed, while Aaron is reduced to stalking Moses while the latter has conversations with the young boy in which only he can see.
Yup, those two chaps have been reduced into Biblical slacker-prophets which kinda makes Ramses a tragic villain somewhat. The final plague, the death of the firstborn in Egypt hits home and as a parent, it was very hard to watch as Joel Edgerton pulls out all stops to deliver the grief on screen.
Having said that, this ties in with my major gripes about Exodus. In the first place, if Moses is the focus of the movie, why isn’t he the one triggering the plagues with the help of God? Considering the minimal amount of interaction Ramses had with Moses post exile and the fact that God was having a direct hand in the plagues (in fact it was the what Ramses said to the young boy that set off the final plague), why did Ridley Scott have Ramses pursue after the Jews and Moses to that final encounter by the Red Sea? Given the creative license taken by RS, why don’t have Ramses WRESTLE with God instead (kinda like Captain Dan in that storm scene in Forrest Gump)?
The writers certainly felt the need to shoo-in that final bit on the Red Sea which is kinda key to any retelling of the Book of Exodus. In any case, both characters survive the encounter, with Ramses living to fight another day and Moses accepting his role as leader of the Jews and leading them back to Midian. I realised that the movie had triggered debates on casting (whitewashing to be exact) and the creative liberties that the director took, but I would say that Exodus: God and Kings, although not reaching the lofty heights of Gladiator, is an interesting, albeit flawed retelling.
Nine Over Ten 9/10 rates Exodus: Gods and Kings at a 3 out of 5.
I managed to catch the film last Friday in a cinema during my short vacation in Bangkok. The movie clocks in at 150 minutes, so it’s a long one.