The first thing to notice when watching Ridley Scott’s movie (Before I go to Sleep, 2014) is that it is an interpretation for the Biblical tale, it is not a Sunday School lesson. Watching it I got the feeling that we are watching a modern telling of an old story. The first thing to note is that this film does not have the same sense of preaching that the year’s previous Biblical epic had. Indeed the not so subtle messages from Noah are missing. There is no vegetarian eating, organic good guys versus the leather wearing, meat-eating bad guys.
There is no real need to discuss the plot, it is what it is. Moses (Christian Bale, American Hustle, 2013) plays the part of a loyal general, standing next to his “brother” through adoption, Ramses (Joel Edgerton, The Great Gatsby, 2013) firstly as Prince then as Pharaoh . We see a man who was first content with his life and how it was. However as he progresses he begins to question certain acts and assumptions.
As he does this, the reigning Pharaoh, Seti, (John Tuturro, Somewhere Tonight, 2011) also sees characteristics in Moses which he values and indeed mentions to Moses at one stage that he wished Moses would inherit the Royal title rather than Ramses. John Tuturro, although an excellent actor would not have been my first choice for this role, but that said, seeing him in it; he’s perfect, giving an excellent, calm understated performance. The interaction between Ramses and Moses is one of the corner-stones of the production which we see develop from princes and generals to a self-righteous ruler who will not countenance disagreement.
It is on one such mission from the Pharaoh, to investigate conditions under Viceroy Heghep (Ben Mendelsohn, Starred-Up, 2013) in the city of Pitom that the true nature of the enslaved conditions of the Jews comes to his attention. He meets with one of the Jewish leaders, Nun (Ben Kingsley, The Physician, 2013) who instructs him as to his past and introduces him to his actual brother, Joshua (Aaron Paul, a Long Way Down. 2014).
Through intrigues, Moses’ true birth-right in brought the the attention of Ramses, now Pharaoh. The effect of this news is to have Moses banished from Egypt. Following his banishment he eventually settles down and raises a family while receiving his message from God. The message drives him back to Egypt to release his people.
What follows is the movie act which probably had most people asking questions – the plagues of God to punish Egypt and set the Chosen people free. He we can see a difference from the Cecil B. DeMille production (1956) there is less of the Divine message than in the earlier work, more matter-of-fact. The plagues are well done and are even a vehicle for some subtle humour whether it is Ewen Bremner ( Snowpiercer, 2013) acting as the “Expert” trying to give the Pharaoh a very 21st century briefing on what is happening or through Indira Varma who play the High-Priestess who finally pays the price for not delivering answers and solutions.
The plagues were sent with the Power of God and in fairness to Scott were presented thus. Overall this was an entertaining production which did not feel quite as long as it might otherwise have. The acting was all as required, delivered with the sense of a block-buster adventure rather than preaching . The setting and special effect were also more plausible (I cannot say if they are realistic) than with Noah.
The Film has been banned in Egypt, and that is a matter for Egyptian authorities, but it is understandable that issues of their past and the treatment of the Jewish People may be sensitive subjects. Also the appearance of God as a young boy in the form the Angel Malak (Isaac Andrews, Hercules, 2014) as the voice of God did not go unnoticed by people. The attitude portrayed also raised an eyebrow or two.
The special effects and costume departments deserve a special mention. Again I compare it to Noah with the costumes supporting the message, whereas here they were part of the production, as they should be.
From a religious aspect, some people will be unhappy but from a purely entertainment perspective, the movie works well, is engaging and gives us an excellent performance by Bale. Well worth watching, I would give it a solid ***