A visual splendour set in 1300 BC, ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’ is the biblical tale of Moses, the adopted son of the Pharaoh who was raised as an Egyptian prince and later turned into a prophet, religious leader and a lawgiver. He figures prominently in the Jewish, Christian and Islamic scriptures.
This often heard story had earlier hit the marquee in 1956 as Cecil B. DeMille's ‘The Ten Commandments’. But unlike the earlier edition, director Ridley Scott's version is narrated in a pragmatic way, where Moses, a cool, eloquent man of reason is wrapped in conflict and complexities, and whose relationship with god is complicated to say the least.
The narration here does not start from Moses' birth, but plunges directly into the dramatic setting with Moses as an adult, garnering brownie points with Pharaoh Seti.
Soon a prophecy, right in the middle of the action, by the high priestess that, "In the battle, a leader will be saved and he will lead," comes true.
After the Pharaoh's untimely death Moses finds himself alienated from his adopted step-brother, the heir apparent Prince Ramses.
Then, on a trip to Pithom, he is unsettled by the glimpses of the genocide in progress. Moses eventually learns the truth of his Hebrew lineage from Nun, a wise Jewish elder, there.
The calculating Egyptian viceroy of Pithom soon stumbles upon this secret and expedites Moses' exit from the royal family and Egypt.
After being humbled and exiled, Moses makes his way to Midian, where he becomes a shepherd and marries the beautiful Zipporah, though he has a difficult time truly accepting his place among the Hebrews and the lord they worship.
It's his rebellious nature that takes him on top of Mount Sinai. There in a landslide he is totally submerged in mud, when he first encounters his destiny's call. He is approached by god to lead his people out of slavery.
Director Scott's narrative hits an all time high showing god's wrath with a dramatic montage of the miseries that hit Egypt. This tableau gives momentum to the narration, which leads to the climactic chase to the Red Sea.
Apart from his interpretation of god as small boy, Scott, once again tackles this awaited crossing of the Red Sea scene with scientific precision that gives credibility to the narration and at the same time makes it a visually thrilling occurrence, which some purists may differ with.
Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton as Moses and Ramses are impressive. Bale's transition from the well built selfless prince to the wornout and broodingly intelligent wise man is remarkable.
Similarly Edgerton's portrayal of Ramses from the apprehensive and self-doubting prince, to the insecure and foolishly adamant Pharaoh is noteworthy. But unfortunately both Bale and Edgerton are nowhere close to the strikingly inspiring Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner's portrayal of the same characters in ‘The Ten Commandments’.
Ben Mendelsohn as the treacherous viceroy of Pithom and Ben Kingsley as Nun add gravitas to the film.
While, Hiam Abbass as Moses' foster mother Bithia, has a few emotionally charged moments, Signourney Weaver as Tuya, Ramses' conniving mother and Golshifteh Farahani as Ramses' wife are wasted.
Similarly Andrew Barclay Tarbet as Aaron and Aaron Paul as Joshua get short changed due to their underwritten character graph.
Maria Valverde as Moses wife Zipporah is glamorous and good, but she seems to be a misfit in the ensemble.
A special mention must be made of production designer Arthur Max, visual effects supervisor Peter Chiang and cinematographer Dariusz Wolski for managing to recreate ancient Egypt with its atmospheric lighting and capturing it on celluloid.
The finely tuned background score by Alberto Iglesias brings the film alive.