Packing for the Promised Land

Exodus: Gods and Kings

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Director: Ridley Scott

Cast: Christian Bale, Ben Kingsley, Joel Edgerton, John Turturro, Aaron Paul, Sigourney Weaver, Ben Mendelsohn, Ewen Bremner, Maria Valverde

After the success of Gladiator and Robin Hood, British director Ridley Scott tackles the Book of Exodus in his ambitious cinematic reworking aptly titled Exodus: Gods and Kings, dedicated to his deceased brother director Tony Scott (True Romance, Top Gun, Man on Fire).

Exodus: Gods and Kings, starts when Moses is a muscular young man taken into the ancient Egyptian court of Seti the supercilious Pharoah played by John Turturro whose son and heir apparent Ramses played by Joel Edgerton becomes like a brother to Moses. All sibling affection soon vanishes, when Moses visits the enslaved Israelites who are forced to build pyramids, sphinxes and tombs to the Egyptian kings.

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Moses played by Oscar winner Christian Bale leaves Egypt and sets off for Midian where he meets his future wife Zipporah played by Spanish actress Maria Valverde. While in Midian, Moses is visited by God in the form of a vengeful boy who promises to free the Israelites from Egypt and set curses upon the ancient land. God makes Moses a leader and instructs him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt into the promised land of Canaan.

After several years of marital bliss, Moses returns to Egypt to discover that the brutal and vain Ramses has taken power and forced the Israelites into an entrenched and vicious slave labour, while the ancient Egyptians live an idle life.

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Once the ten plagues of Egypt have cursed the land of the Nile completely, Ramses will banish the Israelites from Egypt into the desert of Sinai and cinematically these ten curses upon the House of Ramses are brilliantly recreated from rivers of blood to the seminal deaths of the first born Egyptian sons including that of Ramses heir, whilst the Israelite first born sons are spared during the Passover.

In Exodus: Gods and Kings, naturally the narrative is completely biblical and sure to be controversial depending on which religious context the viewer is watching this film in. Besides the religious and historical aspects, Exodus: Gods and Kings is an ambitious saga which unfortunately suffers from the weight of its own importance along with a poorly written dialogue which makes the character development flimsy and almost predictable.

This is a pity considering the fantastic ensemble cast which Scott commands including Sigourney Weaver whose part as Tuya barely registers in the overall narrative along with Ben Kingsley as Hebrew leader Nunn and an unrecognizable Aaron Paul (The Need for Speed) as Joshua.

Besides the two main leads with Bale going through the motions as Moses and Joel Edgerton is slightly better as the confused and curse stricken Egyptian king Ramses, Ben Mendelsohn shines as a camp Viceroy Hegerop who lives a debauched life away from the ancient Egyptian city of Memphis.

Maria Valverde is convincing as Moses long suffering wife Zipporah who is also basically neglected in an overtly patriarchal narrative which gives little credence to any of the female characters in the story. Sigourney Weaver’s Tuya suffers a similar fate, merely feeling a presence without any significant motivation.

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As a film, Exodus: Gods and Kings could have been so much better, including more lavish cinematography, better acting and a more intelligent handling of the Book of Exodus which is complex enough as a religious text, thus making it even more difficult to translate this biblical story into a relevant 21st century cinematic narrative.

In terms of Ridley Scott’s excellent filmography including A Good Year, Gladiator, Blade Runner, Thelma and Louise, Exodus: Gods and Kings can be considered his least successful film, yet it will be his most provocative and talked about.

Whether it’s a complete disaster of biblical proportions or a genuine retelling of Moses leading the Israelites into the promised land of Canaan, Exodus: Gods and Kings will be judged historically entirely by the viewer’s frame of reference, religious beliefs, gender and socio-political perspective. Recommended viewing for those that enjoyed Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, Gladiator or long biblical spectacles such as the 1956 Charlton Heston epic The Ten Commandments.

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