Exodus: Gods and Kings (U/A) 154 min
Cast: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, John Turturro, Aaron Paul, Sigourney Weaver, María Valverde and Ben Kingsley
Director: Ridley Scott
Rating: 3 star
Ridley Scott, who made Maximus a household name with The Gladiator, returns to helming epics of dramatic proportions with Exodus: Gods and Kings. The film tells the story of Moses (Bale) who discovers that he’s actually a Hebrew after having been adopted years early by the Egyptian royal family. Conflicted about having to take on his stepbrother and heir to the throne Pharaoh Ramses (Edgerton), Moses eventually takes forward his calling to lead six lakh slaves on a monumental journey of escape from Egypt.
Contrary to popular notion of Moses and his basket origin tale, Scott introduces us to an adult Moses is a general in Pharaoh Seti’s (Turturro) army and is also a committed brother to Ramses. Moses is clearly a better warrior than his kohl-lined brother Ramses, a fact that rests rather uncomfortably with the latter. So far, so Bollywood. We get a glimpse of the religious icon Moses in his days of religious indifference; he’s a humane personality who empathises with the Hebrew plight more than anyone else in the Egyptian camp. A chance encounter with Nun (Kingsley) leads to Moses discovering that he is, in fact, a Hebrew and he begins to process the ramifications of that truth.
Initially reluctant to adopt his new identity, Moses then starts to embrace it. But he gets banished by Ramses and during his wanderings through forests and villages, he meets the beautiful Zipporah (Valverde) and marries her. Years later, we’re shown that the shepherd Moses is leading a domesticated life until an encounter with God. God here, or a manifestation of him, is an 11-year-old boy with all the trappings of one. Petulant, and often whimsical, God lays out for Moses what is essentially his dharma to deliver the enslaved Hebrews from the evil that the Egyptians epitomise. The interaction leaves Moses deeply unsettled and he behaves rather strangely after it but he eventually accepts the task.
All this while, God seems to do precious little about the atrocities the Egyptians are meting out on the Hebrews. Slavery and bondage don’t elicit even a sigh for this God, who until he is provoked by Egyptian irreverence is perfectly okay with the indifference. Moses has many consultations with God, each time he is more and more disturbed by the plight of the Hebrews, until God decides to unleash the vengeful Ten Plagues. Ramses completely refuses to even negotiate with Moses because he believes himself be God incarnate. This has catastrophic consequences and further entrenches Moses in the distress of rescuing his Hebrew brethren while watching silently the results of an enraged God on his former Egyptian kin.
Scott, the master of grandeur in the moviescape, offers a film that has some typically Scott-like treatment spears on fire, screeching chariots et al that one has come to expect with the filmmaker’s style of period dramas. To his credit, he strips Moses of all the larger than life renditions he has so far had and is committed to keeping his conflict and struggle as humane as possible. But in the process of realistic portrayal of the issues, there’s an underwhelming justification to the “parting of the river” association one has come to have with Moses, making one sorely miss the inexplicable wholly believable legend. There are many such pivotal instances where Scott has taken the pains to strip them of their theatrics, quite ironically, and render them more contemporary in context and relevant to the viewer. That said, he’s thankfully kept the gore alive through the plagues, which seem a bit childish today but were nevertheless menacing in the time frame the film is set in.
Full credit must be given to Bale for using Bruce Wayne-ish restraint in his portrayal of such an epic character. The conflict and the dilemma are made to seem so real that Bale really seems to want to step away from the Charlton Heston created image of Moses. But for all the effort that Bale’s put in, Edgerton lets him down a fair bit as Ramses. He looks uncomfortable while playing the path in his eye makeup, in his conviction to be the bad guy, in just so many ways. As has been Bale’s history with Nolan’s Batman, he has always been served a worthy opponent. After all, a good superhero needs a good super villain and Bale has had formidable ones in Ra’s Al Ghul, Joker and Bane. So Ramses, also a mythological character who had the potential to be as menacing and devious as one’s imagination would have it, pales in comparison.
There are a whole bunch of insignificant contributions but nothing leads the pack like Sigourney Weaver’s presence, or the lack of it. She’s in the film for not even as long as Naseeruddin Shah was in The League of Extraordinary Gentleman. Even Kingsley’s role is too little to comment on, as was Paul’s. The film is certainly worth a watch but the two and a half hours of it seem as long as it took Moses to rescue them Hebrews....