"I came to tell you something is coming that is far beyond you or I."
Biblical films could become the next big thing. The technology we have now can portray all of the Bible’s stories in their full scope and nature. Noah received fairly polarised reviews but most seemed to agree that it tackled the story on an epic scale that had not been seen before. With Ridley Scott’s take on the tale of Moses things are sadly, much the same.
Adopted son of the current Pharaoh and brother to the future one, Moses is forced to sacrifice his life of luxury when he discovers that his true heritage comes from the Hebrew people who are currently enslaved to the Egyptians. He also faces a huge task that has been set for him by God to convince his brother to ‘Let my people go’.
If anyone could tackle this story it would be the director of Gladiator. Ridley Scott specialises in creating entire worlds within his films as we’ve seen with Blade Runner and Gladiator. However in Exodus the ancient Egypt feels relatively small and relies too much on CGI. Though there are many practical effects and on set locations, it fails to leave a lasting impression especially for such a wide scale plot. Though the massive scope of Egypt is captured it doesn’t feel thoroughly fleshed out.
Christian Bale does give quite an outstanding performance as Moses here. The character is written in a unique but very interesting style, being sceptical of religion in general and not only is he not understanding, but also completely unsympathetic and unconcerned with the plight of the Hebrews. There are a lot of human elements added and they are all made believable with Bale’s portrayal, he’s shown as a reluctant hero who has to grow accept his own identity as well as the immense challenge of facing his past that he has been running from. He also doesn’t totally respect or fear god throughout, he wants and tries to defy him, sometimes putting his family and own human reluctance before the demands of the creator. He also shows considerable concern for the innocent people caught in his dispute with Rameses. It helps Bale’s Moses remain relatable and never drifting into wooden territory.
Sadly the supporting cast aren’t as prominent, Joel Edgerton as Rameses fails to make the character menacing or powerful. Ralph Fiennes does a better job in The Prince of Egypt, speaking of which, the character in Exodus could learn a lot from the way that the same man is portrayed and written in Dreamwork’s animated biblical story. Rather than being more of a spoilt brat he’s quite reckless as a child, wishing to break free of responsibility. But under pressure from his father he is hardened into a ruthless ruler who is eager not to be, as his father described him and he later described himself, ‘the weak link’. With this version of Rameses I felt rather undecided over how to feel about him when he’s swallowed by the Red Sea.
Though there are some big players and talented actors in supporting roles such as Ben Kingsley and Sigourney Weaver they fail to register with so little screen time. They do a satisfactory job, but in an epic of this scale there is not enough time or talent shown to make then stand out.
The most impressive element of this film must be Scott’s interpretation of the ten plagues. Here they are brought to life as unstoppable forces of nature rather than a fantasy spectacle. They’re vile and horrific like something out of a disaster film. However the result of this is that the scene that should be the climax, the crowning glory, the Red Sea, feels underwhelming.
Though it understands the scope and intricate emotional trauma of what a tale such as this requires for an accurate retelling, the world lacks heart and detail within, as well as the less than satisfying secondary characters that would make Exodus epic rather than just impressive.