Director Ridley Scott likes to work on big canvasses, here he picks the biggest of them all, the Bible.
Ignoring all portentous signs that most modern films with a religious underpinning do not usually perform well at the box office (Passion of Christ excepting), he dives straight into the epic tale of Moses, with budget and sets that would make Cecil de Mille proud.
Pharaoh Seti (Tuturro) rules with an iron hand, albeit backed with common sense, at least within the context of the period. He has two sons, Ramses (Joel Edgerton) and his adoptive brother Moses (Christian Bale). A prophecy foretells that one of them will be a leader, the brothers are close, it will not last long.
The brothers do what warriors kings did, go fight, enjoy the good life and oversee massive building projects built by thousands of Hebrew slaves, nominally led by Nun (Ben Kingsley).
However as Moses becomes drawn to the inequities of the slaves lot in life, he comes to believe they should be set free, this is reinforced as his own origins are gradually revealed to him.
Once Ramses receives his inheritance and ascends the throne, the world view of the two “brothers” diverge. The scene is set for a titanic battle, not between the brothers but between God and the Egyptian rulers.
As can be expected, this is fire and brimstone stuff or more accurately plague, pestilence, infanticide and other seriously unpleasant “warnings” from an arguably vengeful God. Here rather bizarrely represented by a young caucasian boy. Leaving religion out of the equation is difficult because the plot is biblical and in modern terms, arguably a massive overreaction to the “ordinary folk” who probably had little say in “government policy”.
Notwithstanding that, this a film and not a history lesson or Sunday school project and must be judged as such.
The acting is adequate but as always to a modern audience, is somewhat hampered by any scenes involving slaves and peasants. These tend to bring “Life of Brian” type sketches to the fore. There are also sequences that try as the actors might, still come across like a better budgeted school play. Sigourney Weaver gets a look in as Queen Tuya but gets minimal screen time.
The tone and “message” of the movie is somewhat confused, even Bale in or out of character appears at odds as to what he is trying to get across to the audience. He wants change but is apparently mortified when things get a bit out of hand, does he represent a freedom fighter or terrorist, the film takes no sides.
The action sequences, as you would expect from Scott are stirring and well done. It is just hard to take the film too seriously even when pitched in a solemn and worthy way.
Overall worthy and well made, not a great film nor a terrible one either. Which for Ridley Scott is damning him with faint praise indeed.
Unless you really are a bible film completist, your time might be spent better elsewhere.
Not without it’s merits, particularly in the well executed action sequences but the film is a tough sell to a modern audience.
Box Office suggests that audiences largely looked elsewhere for their disaster movie fix in the domestic market (US) but the film did find a reasonable following in International markets.