Movie Review: ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’ A Visually Stunning Yet Emotionless Epic
Cole Clay // Film Critic
EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS is a film that no one was asking for, well except for its director, the indecipherable Ridley Scott. Although Scott is a remarkable filmmaker in his own right, he is something of an anti-auteur who’s become known for the lack of semblance across his filmography. And frankly, it’s refreshing to never really know what you’re going to get from a filmmaker, even if it’s completely off the rails, like last year’s THE COUNSELOR. Scott moves his renowned yet inexplicable career forward with a retelling of Cecil B. DeMille’s THE TEN COMMANDMENTS. This adaptation is brimming with vitality, but suffers from stiff acting and a self-serious tone that hurts the narrative.
Leading man Christian Bale and co-star Joel Edgerton play royal brothers (not by blood), Moses and Ramses respectively. Bale stiffly portrays Moses, who barely navigates his way through the clunky dialogue. It’s implied that Moses is a much more superior warrior than Ramses in an early action scene in a battle against the Hittites. At least a connection between the two brothers is attempted on screen and Scott provides a sense of what has brought these two royals together over the years, but it’s difficult to tell if Bale and Edgerton are attempting to be brooding or campy.
Controversy stirs within the ranks when the aging Pharoah, played by John Turturro, states that he’d prefer Moses to be his successor over Ramses. Turturro has an inexplicable New York accent and is wearing loads of cat-eye mascara. This performance is a prime example of the unpredictability of Scott’s filmmaking prowess.
The rest of the story is rather familiar and Scott doesn’t spare any details. Moses is exiled from Egypt, marries into a family of shepherds, and is tasked by a God, who in this film is portrayed as a prepubescent boy, to liberate 600,000 Jewish slaves. The clever idea of having Yahweh appear as a young boy funny and at times creepy. Through their exchanges comes intense conversations that ultimately decide the outcome of the slaves, which make for some of the most heartbreaking scenes in the entire film. These exchanges completely overshadow anything Edgerton does in the film (his most captivating scenes are ones where he is swatting away flies).
Certainly this is a film with several flaws as we jump from action-spectacle to small character drama with very little segue involved. Scott finds a way to make it work with minimal help from his actors. His passion for the project is clear, which propels the film to be ultimately successful. It’s not as daring as Scott’s previous work, and feels neutered by the studio system. I suspect there will be a director’s cut released with added footage. Scott’s KINGDOM OF HEAVEN received similar treatment and was a far better film for the additional footage.
Even through all of the contrived melodrama and less than ardent acting, Scott’s direction makes EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS a valuable piece of filmmaking. Just don’t expect a novel take on the tale of Moses.
EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS opens tonight.