Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours 30 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Violence including Battle Sequences and Intense Images
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, Jeffrey Caine & Steven Zaillian
Starring: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, John Turturro, Aaron Paul, Ben Mendelsohn, Ben Kingsley, Sigourney Weaver & Maria Valverde
EXODUS sounds like a surefire winner in concept. You’ve got acclaimed director Ridley Scott at the helm, the biblical epic tale of Moses with Christian Bale as the lead, and first-rate special effects to bring this well-known story to life. While the finished film of EXODUS does have all three of these things, one must consider that Ridley Scott has his fair share of misfires, as does Christian Bale, and effects only count for so much in a film that runs over two hours long. EXODUS has good qualities, but an equal amount of missteps. This all results in a biblical epic that isn’t so much epic as it is middle-of-the-road.
Unlike every other Moses story that I’ve seen, EXODUS begins with Moses as an adult. He and Ramses have been brought up by Pharaoh Seti. The two are like brothers in arms, but only Ramses can ascend to the throne as Moses is adopted. While Ramses becomes egocentric and focuses on military matters, Moses takes an interest in persecuted Hebrew slaves. It is here that Moses discovers that his true origin lies among them. When this revelation is brought to light, Ramses banishes Moses. Everyone with a semi-basic knowledge of the bible and its stories should be able to predict what happens next. Moses is commanded by God to free his enslaved people from the Egyptians, but Ramses is reluctant to allow that. Thus a battle between heaven and earth rages.
One neat approach that Ridley Scott adds into his Moses storyline is that Moses was originally an Egyptian General under Seti. This means that there’s an introductory battle sequence that isn’t half bad. Actually, Ridley Scott seems to get away with a strong amount of violence for a PG-13. The source material being from the bible probably didn’t hurt matters at all and might be why Scott was able to pile the bodies so high. Family drama surrounding Moses and Ramses is also included and as is Moses coming to terms with his identity out in the wilderness. These events felt like they took up far too much of the film before the exciting stuff happens later on. The issue of length doesn’t necessarily disappear either, because the ending runs 10 minutes longer than it should have (including a sappy epilogue). For a movie revolving around plagues and revolution, EXODUS is surprisingly dull.
The big name cast might lead you to believe that there’s some form of redemption in the performances, but that’s also not the case. Christian Bale isn’t given much to do as Moses. He mainly walks around, growls at his enemies and occasionally yells. In essence, his performance almost seemed like he was channeling Batman through Moses (and there’s bound to be an online skit made about that, if there isn’t one already floating around). Other side characters are wasted in underused talented performers. John Turturro has a couple of scenes as Seti, but Sigourney Weaver is damn near mute as his wife until a single scene where she spouts out three lines of dialogue. Ben Kingsley seems to play a big part at the beginning, but is forgotten for the latter half of the film. The same fate befalls Aaron Paul as a sidekick of sorts for Moses. In fact, the only fleshed out character would fall onto that of Ramses. He’s the bad guy, but Joel Edgerton does everything he can to own the performance. Ramses is the only convincing character of the bunch.
As far as biblical events coming to life through impressive effects go, there is one major pitfall in that area too. It’s hard to screw up the plagues and those are the best part of the entire film. I especially like how Ridley Scott pulled off the water into blood and death of the first-born sequences. The parting of the Red Sea didn’t exactly sell me in its introduction, but I liked the execution of that overall. The only problem, and it’s a big one, is the portrayal of God. Sometimes, not showing anything is better than showing too much. Giving Moses visions with a voice over would have sufficed, but the four(!) screenwriters opt to have Moses talking to God in the form of a little boy. This approach might not have been as painful if the child actor was only seen once in the beginning of Moses’s quest, but he’s a key player in the proceedings. We see him all through the movie after his introduction, including a cheesy moment in the overlong epilogue. God as a bad child actor was akin to the rock monsters in NOAH (which is a far better biblical epic than this film).
On a spectacle level, EXODUS looks good. The plagues and parting of the Red Sea are pulled off nicely, but the portrayal of God is just plain silly. Every performance is bland with the exception of Joel Edgerton as Ramses. The story gets too bogged down in family drama that slows the first hour to a crawl before actually getting into the most interesting parts of this Bible story. There are definitely positive things in EXODUS, but the rest of the film is mediocre and boring. For a would-be epic, EXODUS is pretty forgettable. You’re better off watching THE TEN COMMANDMENTS or PRINCE OF EGYPT instead.