Once it is revealed Moses (Christian Bale) is of Hebrew ancestry, he is exiled by his half-brother; the newly appointed Pharaoh King Ramses (Joel Edgerton) and inadvertently cast out to live amongst slaves. In order to put an end to the suffering of Ramses’ tyrannical reign, Moses (with the help of a holy force) leads his people to freedom.
It’s hard to ignore how truly grand and monumental the film feels yet it’s equally as difficult to overlook how (at times) it comes across empty and lifeless. One of the biggest contributing factors to its overall deficiency has to be the poor choice of casting, particularly for the lead Pharaoh characters. Lathering caucasian actors up in enough bronzing lotion to tan the Whitehouse is not only offensive, it composes an inauthentic distraction especially as a handful of supporting Egyptian characters are played by Arabic actors. It only adds to the illustration of inaccurate portrayal.
The inauthenticity is made worse by having the film’s primary language in English. I understand from a blockbuster perspective that having the characters speak in a universal voice is the most effective way of reaching a worldwide audience. However, there are examples which finely execute a way around this problem such as Schindler’s List with actors employing indigenous accents of their characters or Apocalypto with the entire dialogue spoken in the native Yucatec Maya language, which is in turn translated through subtitles.
Given that both films are based upon the same material it would be appropriate to compare Ridley Scott’s Bible-buster to Cecil B. DeMille’s Bible Classic; The Ten Commandments. Although the latter also utilises a predominantly caucasian cast for its Egyptian characters, it feels far more convincing than a film made over 50 years later. DeMille took a big risk casting two relatively unknown actors in Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner as lead characters but reinforced the films chances of success by employing a star-studded supporting cast with the likes of Anne Baxter, Edward G. Robinson, John Carradine and Vincent Price all on board.
Exodus: Gods and Kings takes a similar gamble having Joel Edgerton as the lead antagonist. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have anywhere near the same impact. It’s a real varied performance from the Australian because at times he demonstrates the grandiose sense of a spoilt Tyrant very convincingly but at other times he waveringly stumbles into hammy territory; and to make matters worse his accent fluctuates between something of an Orson Welles impression and a drunk South African. The supporting cast lacks any real star power with only Sir Ben Kingsley and Sigourney Weaver the two most illustrious names; and even then their screen time isn’t sufficient enough to make any impact.
Christian Bale’s star image undoubtedly draws the most attention but his performance is as blandly heroic as you’d come to expect from him recently. His showing as Moses is solidly powerful and he’s probably the best current choice to play that character but there’s something disappointing about seeing him play the same ‘serious’ fearless nobleman we’ve already witnessed from the likes of The Dark Knight Trilogy, Terminator Salvation and Out of the Furnace. It is something I, and I imagine many others, are starting to gradually tire from witnessing. I’d much prefer to see him perform challenging roles such as he has in American Hustle, The Fighter, and The Machinist.
Another casting issue for me (***Spoiler Alert***) was the choice to embody Moses’ vision of God as a child (especially one who’s acting appears more wooden than Ron Burgundy’s office). It just didn’t work for me as he lacked any dramatic prowess.
A scene which adds to more observational bewilderment is when Ramses is leading his men across a perilous cliff-face. At one point, we see thousands of his men (complete with horse and chariot) plummet to their demise over the edge of the cliff. Leaving that section of the cliff entirely impassable. An establishing shot makes it clear to the viewer that he has (at best) a 100 men in tact. However, the next shot of Ramses reaching the coastline shows a fully replenished 1000 healthy horseback, chariot cruising warriors. A continuity error so blatantly careless and lazy it baffles the human mind.
About the only thing that does work is the pacing throughout most of the film. The excitement of the narrative is perfectly poised to come to a climactic conclusion in the final third yet when the film arrives there it is fairly guilty of an underwhelming culmination. Seeing as the Ten Plagues of Egypt scene had been so absorbingly dramatic and given the impressive use of CGI for parts of the film, I was hoping for a more monumental Parting of the Red Sea sequence. Although it feels far more realistic, it bitterly disappoints on a grand epic scale.
Overall the film largely fails to reach the bold majestic heights it tries so hard to achieve. At best, the result is average.
2 Plagues out of 5
by Simon Garganera Price