Movie Review: Exodus: Gods and Kings

It has certainly been a while since my last movie review. I am relived to return to my usual work and share my opinion of the latest releases. On top of that, I want to make it clear that I will not address the controversy associated with Exodus because it is an imaginary problem. I understand giving the whitewash to stories that feature non-Whites is a problem, but this is movie, a piece of art, and art does not have to be taken seriously. The race controversy is not worth anyone’s time and energy when most of America’s cities are on the brink of The Troubles levels of un-rest.

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            As a film buff I owe director Ridley Scott a lot. He introduced the world to Xenomorphs with Alien, my first favorite sci-fi movie, and he made Blade Runner, the film that made me want to be a writer. I respect him as an artist and a game-changer in cinema. However, I understand where he has made mistakes and for the record, Prometheus is not one of them. Robin Hood, Body of Lies, and Hannibal are not the best of films, but Scott has also been the victim of studio interface with Legend, Blade Runner, and Kingdom of Heaven, a film with a far superior director’s cut. So where does Exodus rank in Scott’s filmography?

The story is so familiar I feel no need to summarize. As far as I understand, it is faithful to the tale of Moses freeing the Israelites and leading them out of Egypt.

What sets it apart is how relevant the story feels with parallels to class warfare, police oppression, and the subject of Israel as a state. It is subtle in that regard while maintaining a sense of ambiguity. We know who is supposed to be good and evil, but they behave like ordinary people, reacting to situations like one would expect. Sometimes the roles change where the actions of Moses are as questionable as Ramses is sympathetic.

Like Gladiator Scott channels Old Hollywood with huge sets and A-list actors on an epic scale, supplemented by a helping of brutality within the limits of a PG-13 rating. It is reminiscent of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, sprinkled with hints of realism that make the impossible believable. It treats the divine influence on Moses as hallucinogenic where he sees and hears God when there is nobody talking to him.

God as a character is brilliantly juxtaposed with his actions in the film. He is manifested as a young boy and what he does to the Egyptians is so horrible and over-the-top, it makes sense God would be a cruel, angry child.

The strength of the film comes from the relationship of Moses and Ramses, played by Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton. The chemistry is strong and they match so well that once separated, both change radically. They cannot live without each other, making Ramses’ downfall all the more inevitable and tragic. Even after so much upheaval and harrowing circumstance, neither find it within themselves to kill the other.

Bale brings his usual intensity to Moses, going from accomplished military leader to messianic revolutionary hell-bent on saving his people. It was a good performance, but Edgerton gives it his all and more in my opinion. As the story progresses we see him become unhinged, visibly and emotionally affected by the departure of Moses and that which no man can control. In a way he plays Ramses with a hint of Marlin Brando, constantly moving and touching anything in reach. I cannot recall a scene where he does not have something in his hands or is not moving.

The fault of the film lies in the supporting roles. It is not that the performances were less than serviceable, in fact they were decent, but they were also nonexistent and underutilized. Most of the lines were given to Bale and Edgerton while the rest of the cast had little to nothing to say. There would be some expository dialog or reactions here and there, but it was incredibly scattershot. With actors like Ben Kingsley, Sigourney Weaver, Aaron Paul, and a host of familiar faces, it is a shame they had nothing to do but stand in-frame.

The lack of strong supporting roles might be the result of studio interference as it is very clear Exodus had a Kingdom of Heaven style reaping. There is nothing on the relationship between Ramses and his mother and Kingsley had maybe a few scenes where he did something of substance. I understand the film was probably cut to make the runtime audience-friendly for the target demographic. And because the story is so familiar it makes sense to avoid retreading information that is common knowledge. But in my experience, if Christians are willing to sit through a sermon about the length of a Lord of the Rings movie, then they can handle the extra half-hour that was cut from Exodus. Furthermore, if you cast talented actors only to have their performances slashed from the theatrical cut, why go to the trouble of casting them in the first place? It is as if Terrance Malick edited this film.

Though this is technically a religious movie, outsiders can enjoy Exodus: Gods and Kings for its action and performances. The Plagues sequence alone makes it worth admission for those interested in apocalyptic levels of disaster. The old guard of film can find much to appreciate with its grand spectacle, strong leads, and classic feel. This is certainly an Oscar contender and an excellent weekend distraction that all can enjoy.

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