Director Ridley (Gladiator, Alien) Scott is, no questions asked, one of the world’s best living directors. Even his “bad” movies are masterpieces, and even his box office “flops” make enough money to justify additional projects. So when such a filmmaker wants to tackle an epic such as the story of The Ten Commandments, Hollywood would have been foolish not to let him. And when A-list stars like Christian (the Dark Knight trilogy, Out of the Furnace) Bale jump up and willingly fill the shoes of the legendary Charlton Heston, the studio would have no choice. What happened next would be no surprise to anyone familiar with any previous Scott epics.
Visually, this is one of the most impressive movies of the year. It is just an added bonus that Bale and Joel (Warrior, Zero Dark Thirty) Edgerton are at the top of their respective games in terms of powerful character acting. Bale remains calm, toning down the gravitas that audiences would be expecting from Heston’s age of acting. He also captures something that was unheard of in such times: humanity. His version of Moses is flawed, conflicted, and altogether believable. He is not a superhero, which is a very welcome surprise for those familiar with Bale’s resume. And though Edgerton would have been a better fit for the protagonist, he offers up a rare (and surprisingly villainous) turn as the Pharaoh who challenged God. As the tagline suggests, the two were “Once brothers. Now enemies.” This rings true and sets the tone from the opening frames all the way to the closing credits.
Which is the movie’s one flaw. As a piece of religious art, it sort of misses the point. The focus is not on the plagues, nor on the wrath of God, nor, really, on the necessity of blind faith for the success of Moses and the slaves of Egypt. It is more of a war film with an epic scope, a tale of one man’s struggle with his identity, and a brief but quite effective romance thrown in for good measure. The special effects are spectacular, the casting ends up working quite well, and the additional star power of Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kinglsey, Ben Mendelsohn, John Turturro, and Aaron Paul provide some fun “look and point” moments, but all-in-all, like the last few of Scott’s outings as director, it isn’t quite what people were expecting. In this case, it ends up working out in the end. But it does raise two important questions: Was it wise to focus on the relationship among the brothers over the story from the Old Testament? And would it have been more wise (albeit much riskier) to have cast Bale as Ramses and Edgerton in the role of the hero? All-in-all, it was a good movie. But would have these changes made it a great one? We will probably never know. Either way, it is a proven fact that Ridley Scott will be onto a new project that challenges and shocks moviegoers before this one is released on DVD and Blu-Ray.