Running Time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Raised by Pharaoh Seti’s (John Turturro) daughters, Ramses (Joel Edgerton) and Moses (Christian Bale) are as close as brothers and are the future of the Egyptian monarchy. Ramses will rule as Pharaoh and Moses will lead the armies to glorious victories and usher in a new and even more prosperous age for Egypt. But their relationship is irreparably fractured when a rumor that Moses was born to Hebrew slaves and not as Ramses’ true flesh and blood, surfaces. Moses is exiled from Egypt and while wandering across the desert he comes upon an oasis where he is taken in by a family of goatherders. Enchanted by the lovely Zipporah (Maria Valverde), Moses decides to settle in the oasis, marry Zipporah and forget about Egypt.
Years go by as Moses enjoys his peaceful and idyllic life as a goat herder, husband and father to a young son. Moses’ peace, however, is not to last. As he struggles with the knowledge that his true people are still bound in slavery back in Egypt he wonders what he should do. His answer comes when he is chasing some of his wayward goats on a mountainside and finds himself on holy ground where God gives him a message: Moses is to return to Egypt and free his people from Ramses grasp and bring them back to their homeland of Canaan. Leaving his family behind, Moses returns to the land of his birth with a dire message for Ramses: let the Hebrews go or God will punish the people of Egypt.
Ridley Scott is no stranger to lavish historical epics. White Squall, Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven and now Exodus: Gods and Kings are all beautifully made with incredibly detailed costumes, grand sets and excellents casts. Where Exodus occasionally loses it way is in some of the storytelling choices that Scottand the writers make. I suppose they were forced to by hyper-aware of any and all overt similarities to the classic The Ten Commandments and it caused them to look for ways to differentiate themselves. Most of those ways, in my opinion were to the detriment of both the story and the overall film. Gone is the famous showdown between Moses and the Pharaoh’s magicians where the staves become serpents. In its place is an unwieldy and effects heavy crocodile rampage. Moses and the Hebrews become insurgent revolutionaries who burn crops and blow up storehouses full of lamp oil, in the hopes of forcing the Egyptians to demand that they be released in order to stop the chaos. Jehovah transitions from a burning bush to a sullen and bloodthirsty young boy who scolds Moses for not being extreme enough in his methods. And when the plagues come, they arrive without warning and flow from one to the next without explanation. Without exception, I think each of these changes was less effective than the original methods of telling this story and took away from the film.
What caught me off guard and helped me enjoy this film were the surprising touches of tenderness and emotion that are peppered throughout Exodus: Gods and Kings. How Bale and Valverde lose themselves in each other during the wedding ceremony and subsequent wedding night is gentle and beautiful. My heart also broke watching Edgerton dote on his baby boy because you know what is coming and when Moses is standing on the balcony and he hears the wails of despair coming from all across Egypt as parents discover their dead children, his shoulders droop with the weight of what he has brought to this place that was once his home and you can feel his sorrow. So many things are right about this movie that the things that are wrong are even more offensively obvious. Ridley Scott and his cadre of writers only have themselves to blame for the failings of this movie have no one to blame but themselves because it was their tinkering and fiddling with the source material in an effort to put their own signature that leaves Exodus: Gods and Kings grasping for a greatness it cannot reach. B-