Overview: Moses is exiled by Egyptian King Ramses, only to return and lead his true people to freedom. 2oth Century Fox; 2014; PG-13; 154 minutes.
Ellen Ripley, Ghandi, and The Jesus Walk Into a Bar: There is a lot of talent hiding uselessly behind pounds and pounds of eyeliner in Exodus: Gods and Kings. Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kingsley, and Aaron Paul wordlessly decorate scenes. John Turturro steps in as the most off-putting, disruptive pharaoh in the history of historical epics. This collection of established stars into bit parts could not be gathered by a director who does not have an undeniable résumé. With the exception of James Cameron, no director takes bigger swings than Ridley Scott. Of course, that sort of bravery can be problematic. When it comes to films as large in scale as Exodus, “epic’ and “absurd” sit in very close proximity. Missing by an inch can look a lot like missing by a mile.
I Wish I Hadn’t Read the Book First: Scott is again swinging big here. He may be swinging harder than ever. He’s recalling the wide-eyed mythologizing that he toyed with through sci-fi speculation in Prometheus, he’s revisiting the breathless and brutal hopelessness of The Counselor, and he’s recycling the historic scale and opening act and the conflict set-up of Gladiator. I really like all of those movies, so I was shocked when I found myself laughing so frequently at the early missteps in Exodus. The absurd presentation of Turturro’s Seti, the awkward scene where Ramses (Joel Edgerton) is just chilling with snakes around his neck looking like a Papa Roach album cover and expelling seemingly important metaphors about venom that never come back into play, and the arrival of God as a petulant pre-pubescent boy whose hissy fits manifest as plagues– it’s all hilarious because it’s so… unthought. And around those isolated instances of inadvertent humor there are the kinds of scenes that the Biblical account demands be included: unbearably long stretches of Jewish folk walking through the desert filmed from on high, a few spastic battle scenes, and a twenty minute montage of apocalyptic disaster. This last stretch has moments of impressive (and terrifying) arrangement, the sort of execution that one can only hope to find in a better film someday. But for all of that filmmaking, it feels like there is no film here. Scott just throws everything he can on the screen, wastes an unnoticeably focused and intense performance from Bale, and swings so hard that he sharts a hole in his pants as he misses completely.
What’s Up With It, Vanilla Faces: One can not really discuss this movie without at least touching on the controversial decision to place a white man named Christian in the role of the Hebrew King who was certainly of a darker skin tone than Bruce fucking Wayne. Scott is on record as having defended the casting by pointing out that funding for this film would not have happened if he had assigned lesser known actors who were more accurate to ethnicity. This is a film where the corpse of a two year old child is waved haphazardly around to advance the plot, where brutal animal deaths occur more frequently than the spoken lines of its stars, and the Old Testament God is drawn as vengefully unforgiving as He’s been maybe since, well, maybe the Old Testament. If the hiring of main actors who are of Middle Eastern or North African decent would have been the thing to cut off production investment, then some part of the film culture — between the financiers, the directors, and the audience– needs a stern reassessment.