Ridley Scott can’t or won’t shake faith on film. See “Gladiator,” “Kingdom of Heaven” and now “Exodus: Gods and Kings.” The latter stars Christian Bale as Moses in the well-known tale of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt.
There’s nothing wrong with Bale; he delivers his usual good work. Joel Edgerton is strong and watchable as Pharaoh Ramses. But Ben Kingsley is underused as a Hebrew elder, and Sigourney Weaver (as Ramses’ mother) is too good to have been given virtually nothing to do.
The film’s real stars are the visual effects and the action of Scott’s ancient warfare. Call me a sucker for chariots, but when they’re slipping off rocky crags in unchecked advance to the Red Sea, Sir Ridley’s cinema is just splendid.
The film’s psychological and theological riches impress less, however. “Exodus” feels to me too much like familiar ground (see “The Ten Commandments”), despite some press suggesting otherwise.
True, it’s striking to see God appear to Moses in the form of a child. I initially liked this choice, but several of their later conversations – notably their “discussion” about killing Egyptian firstborns – seem off tonally. (That said, what is the right tone for a conversation about the death of children?)
As for the cinematic display of the proverbial plagues (water to blood, boils, et al), it was oddly ho-hum. A lot of frogs is a lot of frogs is a lot of frogs.
By far the best part of the film is the Red Sea sequence – not just the parting of the waters (which here don’t really part, per se), but the whole pursuit leading up to it (see my above note about chariot love).
Regrettably, the film’s last several minutes feel strung out, disjointed. No matter how iconic the Ten Commandments and the Ark of the Covenant have become, “Exodus” probably would have benefited from a tighter narrative and sooner ending (to wit, how “Lincoln” and “Selma” focus on chapters of larger sagas).
Some of the faithful might be put off by Moses’ attitude toward God at times – maybe too many questions, too much seeming disrespect.
However, another reading of the biblical text about Moses might make Scott’s Moses (if not God) less offensive.
When the waters recede and the credits roll, one thing seems certain: “Exodus” works best when it’s about Scott’s artistry, not Moses’ theology – imagined or otherwise.
Cliff Vaughn is media producer for EthicsDaily.com.
MPAA rating: Rated PG-13 for violence including battle sequences and intense images.
Director: Ridley Scott
Writers: Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, Jeffrey Caine and Steven Zaillian
Cast: Christian Bale: Moses; Joel Edgerton: Ramses; Sigourney Weaver: Tuya; Ben Kingsley: Nun.
The movie’s website is here.