Aside from impressive 21st century digital effects, this new take on the Moses story pales in comparison to Cecil B. DeMille's iconic 1956 version, The Ten Commandments, which is far more resonant and intensely dramatic. Biblical epics are tricky to get right, and Ridley Scott certainly knows how to make them look and feel terrific (see Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven), but his films are generally about the spectacle rather than the human emotion. So this version of the biblical story will only appeal to viewers who have never seen a better one.
It's set in 1300 BC, when the Israelites have been in captivity in Egypt for 400 years. Now rumours of liberation are circling, centring on Moses (Christian Bale), the adopted son of Pharaoh Seti (John Turturro), raised as a brother alongside the future Pharaoh Ramses (Joel Edgerton). When it emerges that Moses is actually a Hebrew, he is sent into exile in the desert, where he finds a new calling as a shepherd and marries his new boss' sexy daughter Sefora (Maria Valverde). Moses also has a run-in with the Jewish God, who appears in the form of a young boy (Isaac Andrews), challenging Moses to free the Israelites. As Moses attempts to spark a slave revolt, God sends seven horrific plagues to convince Ramses to let his people go.
The script struggles to have its cake and eat it too, finding rational explanations for the plagues and miracles while still maintaining God's supernatural intervention. It's a rather odd mix that demonstrates just how compromised the movie is: it's a big blockbuster rather than a story about people. Several elements work well, such as depicting God as a boy, although the screenplay never manages to make much of the female characters. And only Ben Mendelsohn manages to inject any proper personality as the weaselly overseer of the slaves. Bale and Edgerton both catch the complexity of their characters' situations, privilege mixed with personal revelations. But Scott is more interested in parting the Red Sea than taking them anywhere very interesting.
Continue reading: Exodus: Gods and Kings Review