MV5BMjI3MDY0NjkxNl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTM3NTA0MzE@._V1_SX214_AL_What’s it all about?

The defiant leader Moses rises up against the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses, setting 600,000 slaves on a monumental journey of escape from Egypt and its terrifying cycle of deadly plagues.

Which you should know all about if you were paying attention at Sunday school.

Why did I want to see it?

Full disclosure: this was the choice of the Book God who can’t resist anything remotely sword-and-sandal adjacent, but I was quite happy to go along because I enjoy these epic movies when they are done well (and possibly even more when they are done really badly). I was also brought up on a diet of epics which my Dad really loved – The Robe, Quo Vadis, Ben Hur, The Ten Commandments, Samson and Delilah – you name it, I’ve seen it more than once.

What did I think of it?

Exodus: Gods and Kings is the latest movie from Ridley Scott, a director who can be absolutely brilliant or pretty meh IMHO, and I wasn’t quite sure which version we were going to get – *whispers* we didn’t get the brilliant one.

Oh, and there will be spoilers. For the movie obviously, not The Bible. And my comments are about the film only and its representation of the story as it is generally portrayed, and nothing else.

So when it comes to the story of Moses I have a checklist based on what I was taught as a child, the various movies I’ve seen in the past, and a quick refresher course on the plagues with some assistance from the Book God who has an A level in Divinity (Cambridge syllabus 1969).

I therefore expect any Mosaic epic to contain:

  • basket in the bulrushes
  • burning bush (God, representation of)
  • plagues, various
  • parting of the Red Sea, spectacular
  • the Ten Commandments

And it’s fair to say that we got the lot in varying degrees, all except for the bulrushes. And that’s where the problems with the film start; we come across Moses as a fully grown man and I have to agree with other reviewers who have raised this point, it’s difficult to build a connection with him because of that. He arrives fully formed and we’re not sure what makes him tick. But that would be a minor point if it wasn’t for the fact that none of the human elements of the story really work, though the set pieces are epic in scope.

Before I launch into the detail it’s worth sharing that after the screening when the Book God asked me what I thought, the two things that immediately sprang to mind were heavy-handed and humourless. The palette was drab and murky and apart from the two leads, Christian Bale as Moses and Joel Edgerton as Pharaoh, the other roles were beautifully cast but for the most part underused.

So, the detail:

  • John Turturro was very entertaining as the old Pharaoh but there wasn’t enough of him, likewise Sigourney Weaver as his Queen – she looked spectacular but was there basically to be horrible to Moses
  • the reason for Moses’ exile was more complicated than it needed to be
  • the suffering of the Hebrew slaves was handled in an almost throwaway manner; not that I was looking for horror as such but there was no real sense about why it mattered to Moses so much that he would give up his family to lead them into freedom
  • and following on from that there was no sense of righteous anger on the part of Moses at any point; he gets a bit peevish with God but never downright furious at anyone which I’ve always thought was one of the key traits of an Old Testament patriarch
  • which brings me to the portrayal of God – excellent burning bush effect, but really creeped out by the young English boy as the manifestation of the Almighty (the kid was good but it made me think a tiny wee bit of The Omen and I’m pretty sure that’s not the effect the director was aiming for)
  • Pharaoh – petulant, spoiled, no air of greatness, of course he didn’t believe in all that prophesy nonsense (until he did) but felt a bit sorry for him over the whole firstborn thing (though only a bit)
  • Ben Kingsley in his standard man-of-wisdom role (he was actually quite good, he does do that air of gravitas very well)
  • the plagues were very well done, though I’m pretty sure they told me in Sunday school that the turning of the Nile to blood was because Moses plunged his staff into the river at God’s command rather than because of an attack of giant man-eating crocodiles chomping on fisherman as we have here
  • in fact Moses and his followers were almost entirely passive throughout the whole plagues thing
  • I would have preferred the parting of the Red Sea to have been more traditional walls of water than bigger than usual tidal wave, but still well done (and always one of the best bits)
  • The Ten Commandments and the eventual fate of Moses was a bit of an afterthought

So it was all a bit disappointing really. I think I preferred Noah, even though that was totally bonkers. And I never thought I’d miss Charlton Heston. Missed opportunity.

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