Banish all memories of a hambone, harrumphing Old Testament Charlton Heston as Moses in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments, the 1956 campfest that TV shoves at us during religious holidays. DeMille’s once-thrilling parting of the Red Sea plays today like CG primitivism.
Director Ridley Scott (Gladiator) is determined not to make his Exodus: Gods and Kings old-hat. But he’s after way more than FX pow – although wait until you see that Red Sea heave in 3D and the damage done by those 10 deadly plagues, from crocodiles, frogs and locusts to the death of every first-born in Egypt.
Shooting on location, mostly in Spain, with thousands of non-digital extras, the ferociously cinematic Scott aims to keep things real and raw. He gets that and more from Christian Bale, in rousing form, as a hot-blooded warrior Moses ready to question all comers, including the gods and kings of the title. After learning of his Hebrew identity, Moses rises up against a childhood pal, the pharaoh Ramses (Joel Edgerton), and builds the mettle he needs to lead 600,000 Israelite slaves out of Egypt.
Like Darren Aronofsky in Noah, Scott, who crafted the script with four other writers, departs from Scripture enough to raise hackles. For example, this Moses sees God in the person of an insolent schoolboy (Isaac Andrews), who takes guff from Moses for waiting 400 years to get around to freeing the slaves. In the large cast, including Aaron Paul, Ben Kingsley and John Turturro, Sigourney Weaver stands out as the mother of Ramses. “I don’t want Moses exiled,” she snaps. “I want him dead.” You get the picture. Exodus is a biblical epic that comes at you at maximum velocity but stays stirringly, inspiringly human.