For me Ridley Scott has always been a hit or miss kind of director. Films like Alien, Thelma & Louise, Prometheus, Blade Runner, and Gladiator were great while The Counselor, Robin Hood, Hannibal, and G.I. Jane were less so. He has made a career out of directing epic films and he returns once again to that well with his latest, Exodus: Gods and Kings. It is another one of his films that falls into the looks good, but lacks coherence and substance category. It is a shame because obviously a lot of money ($140 million budget) was sunk into the way the film looks (I saw it in 3D). Maybe, though, some more attention should have been paid to the pacing and script.
Throughout the years the Old Testament has been fertile source material for Hollywood. Many a film like Noah, The Ten Commandments, Samson and Delilah, and King David has used it as the backbone of its story. Ridley Scott has returned to it and brought to the screen an epic film that deals with the Book of Exodus in which the Jews gain their freedom from the Egyptians and touches upon the stories of Moses, the Pharaoh Ramses and Miriam. It pretty much covers the period just before God gives Moses the Ten Commandments.
When we meet Moses (Christian Bale – The Dark Knight, American Psycho) and Ramses (Joel Edgerton – Warrior, Zero Dark Thirty) they are adults within the Egyptian court. Best friends since childhood the two are now high ranking warriors under Pharaoh Seti (John Turturro – O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Transformers). Though he is Ramses father, Seti favours Moses and this causes a little tension. Despite this Moses is devoted to his friend, even saving his life in battle.
After Seti’s death Ramses assumes his position as Pharaoh. Shortly after Moses returns from Pithom,a Hittite slave village, it is revealed that he is actually Jewish so Ramses banishes him. At first Moses wanders the desert only to meet up with a small settlement of goat raising Jews. There he falls in love with Sefora (Maria Valverde) and they marry then have a son. Moses is no longer able to deny his destiny when he is confronted by multiple visions and signs from God including a burning bush. God wants Moses to lead the Jews out of slavery.
On the plus side the film is visually stunning. Fans of sword and sandal and adventure films will be engaged visually, especially with the 3D version, as it uses cutting edge technology. The battle sequences and the plagues which God puts upon the Egyptians are something else to see. The Nile the colour of blood, bloodthirsty giant crocodiles and tons of frogs, boils and locusts all leave a mark. Like the Ten Commandments before it the most visually arresting scene is when the Jews cross the Red Sea. Instead of the usual ridiculous parting, Ridley Scott has gone for something more plausible and yet still incredible to look at.
Where the film fails is in the telling of the story. The dialogue is at times awful and some needed backstories (like the establishment of the friendship between Moses and Ramses) are glossed over quickly leaving the viewer wanted more or even worse, lost. Character development is next to nil and as a result I felt little to no connection with any of the characters.
As for the actors no one really made their mark. At times I could not understand what Moses was saying because of Christian Bale’s habit of mumbling. Sigourney Weaver actually was in the film as Seti’s wife and Ramses’ mother as was Breaking Bad actor Aaron Paul, but they were so underused it was a shame. Plus there is that whole other issue of using white actors as leads and installing Arabs and others of colour in supporting roles. I really don’t know what else I can lend to the argument of this being wrong as it is a debate that has been going on for decades.
The pressure of creating a biblical epic seems to have gotten to Scott on several occasions in which the veteran director makes bad choices. For instance, after the epic crossing of the Red Sea the film should have ended and yet it dragged on for another few minutes like an ailing dog. Not necessary at all as he did not need to fatten it up as the run time is 2 ½ hours. Plus it renders the ending totally anticlimactic. This pressure is understandable as today’s audience is much more cynical about religious epics than they were in days gone by. It is a harder sell to make something that they will not dismiss outright or be offended by.
-The Exodus Historical Guide, a Feature length Trivia Track
-Deleted and Extended Scenes
-Keepers of the Covenant Documentary including 14 Enhancement Pods
-The Lawgiver’s Legacy: Moses Throughout History
-The Gods and Kings Archive
-Promotional Featurettes including the HBO First Look