Exodus: Gods and Kings

If you want to see a great movie about Moses, then go see Director Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments (1956).

Exodus Gods and KingsRidley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings is 2 hours and 20 minutes long, and it makes you feel like you joined Moses as he led the Hebrews out of Egypt. It’s got a great cast and some wonderful special effects, but it falls short in nearly every other respect.

Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton appear as Moses and Ramses, and I am a great admirer of both actors. Mr. Bales’ performance as Bruce Wayne in his three Dark Knight films (2005, 2008 and 2012) speak for themselves, and he was equally memorable in movies ranging from last year’s American Hustle and Out of the Furnace, The Fighter (2010), 3:10 to Yuma (2007) and the all but forgotten Rescue Dawn (2006). Mr. Edgerton is not as well known, but you really should take the time to hunt him down in last year’s The Great Gatsby, Zero Dark Thirty (2012), Warrior (2011) and the equally compelling Animal Kingdom (2010).

Here, however, they both amount to little more than one trick ponies, constantly appearing as sullen adversaries who used to be brothers.  Ramses is dedicated to no one other than himself, while Moses becomes a good-looking renegade with an attitude who won’t take no for an answer.

Look, we all know the story of Moses from the Old Testament, so there is no need to outline the plot. Learning late in the game that he is a Hebrew, it is unfortunate that Moses’ initial expulsion from Egypt produces little meaningful excitement.

Having finally bumped into God, this time an 11-year old boy rather than a burning bush, he returns to Egypt as a rebel with a cause. Consistently failing to produce any concessions from Ramses, the good Lord comes to his aid and unleashes a handful of plagues on the motherland. Though visually fantastic, even the catastrophes seem dull.

The bloody Nile seems a bit corny, and the plague does little more than produce boils on the faces of Ramses and his fellow Egyptians. While the locusts and gnats are intrusive, an early invention of “Off” would have solved the Egyptians’ problem.

Even the killing of every Egyptian’s first born left you more angry at God than the Egyptian constituents. After all, if God really wanted to save the Hebrews, then why didn’t he or she just kill the members of Pharoah’s army as opposed to their first born sons? As you sat in the theater, it was hard not to question God’s heart.

Yes, the movie has small roles from such well-known actors as Ben Kingsley, Sigourney Weaver, Ben Mendelsohn and John Turturro. However, they are mostly afterthoughts, and the most interesting character was played by Isaac Andrews, the youngster who played God as an 11-year old boy. Despite the objections from the religious right, it actually works to good effect.

Listen, I know there has been a lot of criticism of Exodus because the starring actors were Englishmen and Australians. But after all, didn’t the acclaimed Ten Commandments in 1956 star westerners like Charlton Heston, Anne Baxter, Edward G. Robinson, John Carradine and Vincent Price?

The movie’s fundamental problem is not based on the nationality of the actors, but the simple fact that you come into the theater knowing the ending. What’s worse, the recreation of the deluge in the Red Sea strongly resembles the mighty wave that nearly engulfed McConoughey and Hathaway in this year’s Interstellar.

Sadly, how can you really enjoy an artfully wrapped cinematic Christmas gift when you know the contents?