by Coop Cooper
Mirroring the Old Testament verses on which it was based, Moses (Christian Bale) grows up a prince of Egypt and fights alongside of the future Pharaoh, Ramses (Joel Edgerton), as his adopted brother. Unaware of his Hebrew heritage, Moses is sent to parlay with the leader of the Jewish slaves (Ben Kingsley) who informs him of his past and his future destiny. In disbelief, Moses returns to his duties, but betrays Ramses to protect a Hebrew servant. Moses is exiled, finds refuge with a band of Jewish wanderers and quickly falls in love with a woman named Zipporah (Maria Valverde) whom he marries. After a time of peace, God speaks to Moses, setting off a chain of events that will lead to Moses freeing the Jewish slaves from Egypt.
The story opts to focus on Moses from early adulthood until the ‘exodus’ itself. Moses carving the Ten Commandments and wandering with his people in the desert (with the Ark of the Covenant beside him) fill up only the last five minutes of the film. As opposed to the recent “Noah” adaptation, “Exodus” unfolds in a safe and straightforward manner. Fewer liberties were taken with the source material and it plays out like one would expect from a biblical epic. “Noah” had less material to draw from, prompting the filmmakers to take bolder gambles which did not work well (the angels were ‘rock monsters’?). With Exodus, I would say the result is much more predictable, but only a little more satisfying.
The few liberties there are should be noted… In the film, God did not speak to Moses through the burning bush. That was only an attention-getter. Instead he takes the form of a pre-teen shepherd boy. While it didn’t seem like a big deal, it became especially jarring when the boy became angry at Ramses and the Egyptians, declaring his wrath and promising a horrible death to them. I know God in the Old Testament was supposedly a vengeful one, but to see Moses frightened by the ‘death of the first-born sons’ plan seemed almost as if the writers and the veteran director, Ridley Scott, wanted to question the wisdom/motive of God. Are they trying to say that God at that time was like an angry adolescent in his choice to deliver such wrath? It was an interesting choice and I suspect there will be some heated opinions on it. Also, during the parting of the Red Sea, Moses decides to ride towards Ramses and fight him as the tidal wave is crashing down on them both. This must have been a device to have the characters confront each other one last time but it felt like a Hollywood cheat.
Moses is the softest of all the characters while the others play their roles stiffly and with little emotion, except rage. Ramses is painted as a loyal, loving brother at first until the power eventually goes to his head, corrupting him completely. Not much will be said about the acting here except that Christian Bale performs competently as he always does. Although there was minor controversy when Ridley Scott cast only white/Anglo leads, but this is Hollywood we are talking about here. They cast the popular actors no matter how miscast they might seem (Edgerton especially seems an odd choice for an Egyptian, although he was putting forward his best Yul Brenner vibe).
The scenes involving the ‘Ten Plagues of Egypt’ were pretty harrowing, although it went by fast. Even after the first three plagues it almost seems unbelievable that Ramses wouldn’t set them free immediately, but to me it was the most interesting part of the film. To see those things come to life was horrifying, but the final one almost seemed too much to bear. I believe it was an effective way to drive Ramses mad and make him a more dynamic character to the point where you feel sorry for him and can almost sympathize with his rage.
Unlike “The Ten Commandments”, this film stops way short of completing the story of Moses, however it wraps it up enough to suggest there will not be a sequel to finish it. It seems pretty faithful to the source and should satisfy an audience that demands accuracy, even though the vengeful ‘Boy-God’ element is problematic. Although it does not directly tie into the story of Jesus, it has enough religiousness to make it well worth a watch over the Christmas holiday and it certainly fits right in with Hanukkah.
Rating: 3 out of 5