I went into Exodus: Gods And Kings with some skepticism. You see, I played Moses in a VBS sketch for my Church group this summer and I was dubious to say the least that Christian Bale could match my acting chops. Sure, he had a $140 million budget and director Ridley Scott at his disposal, but did he have a snake puppet to utilize like I did? As it turns out, Bale is missing more than just a snake toy in his performance, as he and the movie itself feel lacking as a whole.
Now, it’s obvious right off the bat that the story of Moses freeing his people is not a lighthearted one filled with moments of levity. That being said, the movies extremely dour tone is a hindrance to the movie at it’s start, as over the top costumes and moments (such as Joel Edgerton holding a snake on his shoulders in a sexual manner) just don’t match the solemn tone the movie holds. Thankfully, later set pieces are handled better, but much of the film just feels mismatched thanks to it’s somberness.
Not helping maters is the cast, which is similarly bizarre in the fact that very few of them get anything to do. Joel Edgerton as Ramses is more yelley than intimidating, and his gradual hatred towards his brother, Moses, feels forced rather than tragic. Ben Kingsley gets to spout exposition for Moses at the start of the movie, and then does nothing else. Sigourney Weaver is similarly short-thrifted, her reunion with Ridley Scott (who directed her as Ellen Ripley in Alien) consisting of two or three lines in the total film. And why is Aaron Paul in here, but given nothing to do? He was fantastic on Breaking Bad, and he could have brought some massive gravitas or at least a line like “Yo, when are we doing the commandments, bitch?” to the project.
The film is more content to focus on Christian Bale, a capable performer whose one of my favorite performers of modern day film (he was aces in one of my favorite 2013 films, American Hustle), but man does he just come up short here. Part of that is due to the structure of the story, which doesn’t allow the progress of Moses as a character to feel natural. For instance, his marriage to a woman whose name I don’t even remember feels like Anna and Hans marriage from Frozen played in a serious manner in terms of how quickly the two fall in love.
Another part of that is how Bale treats every scene with this sort of deep, deep seriousness that kinda works in some moments, but feels repetitive after a while. But he does handle later scenes in the film well, and I must say, the depiction of the Red Sea and the plagues are handled excellently. On a visual level alone, director Ridley Scott makes them come to vivid life, and also makes sure the scope of these tragedies is felt (though the visual of a baby wrapped up like a mummy elicited a giggle from me), while the parting of the Red Sea has some moments of glorious tension. These scenes are entertaining to watch, but they do demonstrate just how lacking Exodus: Gods And Kings is as a movie.