Look, it’s not like I’m judging everything he did against Alien and Blade Runner, but he did once make those films, you know?
I probably should have seen this film at the cinema. I mean, hello? Plagues? Parting of the waves? All that stuff? Saying that, the reason I didn’t see this on the big screen was because I thought it looked a bit all-sound-and-fury-signifying-nothing, and at least at home I can just turn off the film if I didn’t like it, whereas walking out of a cinema screening takes a lot more dedication. I’ve only ever walked out of a film once, and that was for Michael Mann’s Miami Vice. That doesn’t mean it was the worst film I’ve ever seen at the cinema, but I definitely couldn’t be arsed with it at the time.
Anyway, I’m sorry I didn’t see Exodus at the cinema because its spectacle is seriously spectacular, but I’m not bothered I gave it a pass because it is a disappointing experience. For those not well versed in the Bible, this is the tale of royal Egyptian soldier Moses (Christian Bale) discovering his real Hebrew birthright. This is set in motion when he falls out with his best friend and pharaoh-in-waiting Rameses (Joel Edgerton) over one of those omens that predicts one of them will rule and one of them will not. Moses is exiled to get him out of the way but is also set up by Rameses to be murdered as a precaution. Our guy escapes and then shacks up with a beautiful villager, enjoying married bliss (and a child) for nine years until he sees a burning bush and God Himself in the form of an unlikeable kid who tells him of the plight of his people back in the city. The wife and kid stay at home as Moses demands the Hebrew slaves be freed. Rameses says no, and this is where the narrative gets somewhat choppy. All of a sudden we’re in training montage territory as Moses trains the slaves in quicktime, God gets impatient, wave upon wave of plagues are unleashed (hurting everybody, poor slaves included), Moses rounds up anyone who’s survived together for the big escape and its wave-parting time. Then it’s over.
The first hour is the most dramatically satisfying, focusing on Moses’ journey, with Bale delivering a performance of solemn intensity while Edgerton is effectively conflicted but cruel. Supporting performances by Ben Kingsley, Sigourney Weaver and Aaron Paul are seriously underwhelming, with the latter two being giving virtually nothing to do. At least John Turturro (as Rameses’ father)’s brief screentime is understandable, given he dies in the first twenty minutes. However, the last hour-and-a-half is too busy and the plot loses focus – the plagues admittedly are incredibly visceral, beginning with a crocodile onslaught which paves the way to seas of blood, frog attacks, flies, maggots, locusts and most horrifying of all, a cloak of darkness which kills children. Rough. Unfortunately, this does mean the human element of the story gets sidelined, and Moses and Rameses end up being little dots in all of this spectacle. By the time Moses gets proactive and heads for the sea, I lost whatever connection I had to him, and by this stage even the spectacle element is strangely fluffed, with Ridley Scott making a pig’s ear of the parting of the waves (by forgetting to actually show it happening – we cut to an ocean already drained!) Rameses and co try to catch up with Moses, and the bit where they take the high road is perilously exciting. However by the end there’s little sense of reward – even God’s not happy, which paves the way for the Ten Commandments and an unexpected jump in time which makes very little sense.
The problem I guess is that in an era of epic television shows that allow stories of this magnitude to breathe, Exodus feels crammed and remote – the visuals are there, and the impact is often immense, but something’s missing. By the way. when’s Ridley Scott going to make another Absolute Classic Masterpiece again? It’s been a long time, but I’m still waiting.