Exodus: Gods and Kings is a tribute to those overblown biblical movies of the 1950s, albeit with all the eye-candy trappings that today’s high tech special effects can offer.
Exodus: Gods and Kings. Directed by Ridley Scott. At screens around New England.
By Paul Dervis
Where’s Charlton Heston when you need him? Or Cecil B. DeMille, for that matter. Exodus: Gods and Kings is a tribute to those overblown biblical movies of the 1950s, albeit with all the eye-candy trappings that today’s high tech special effects can offer. But director Ridley Scott, perhaps depending too much on the visuals, forgot to deliver an interesting and cogent story. This is a yawner of a big spectacle. Four different writers are credited for this mess, and that inconsistency is obvious in every scene.
Where did this film fail? Where to start?
How about the beginning. Just a few minutes into it, we are witness to a colossal battle. Massive in scale, the scene has the athletic feel of a Jackie Chan film, complete with warriors doing summersaults and soldiers twisting their swords like baton twirlers leading a marching band. This epic battle clearly was supposed to be awe inspiring, but in fact it comes off as unintentionally comical — warfare as a warm-up for the Olympics. As far as moving the storyline along, the endless slaughter is there to show us that Moses has sworn undying loyalty to his brethren, particularly Ramses. Saves his life, and all that.
And the make-up. No question that the ancient Egyptians wore it, but the characters in this extravaganza appear to be painted by Robert Preston’s camped-up character in Victor/Victoria. The make-up was so thick it was difficult to get past it and focus on the characters themselves.
Which actually might not have been a bad thing.
The acting was unbelievable, and I mean that literally. Christian Bale, as Moses, is called on to carry the film. Heavy lifting to be sure, but he has offered some fine turns in the past. The actor was quite good in The Fighter and made for a popular Batman. But his Moses is carved of wood. If he had any emotions they were buried too deep for the camera to detect.
The supporting cast had real promise. Both Ben Kingsley and Signourney Weaver play what should have been pivotal roles…but, if that was the plan, the majority of their work ended up on the cutting room floor. Their dialogue would fit on one page. Kingsley, in particular, was relegated to looking thoughtful.
And the accents! Widely criticized in the press for being heavily WASP-ish (given that the tale is set in North Africa), the cast members didn’t look their parts, but it was the mishmash of speech that was bewildering. Mostly American, British, and Australian, these accents whisked us out of the Old Testament and into the Brave New World of today.
Could this film have worked better if an hour was cut from its 150 minute length? Maybe. It couldn’t have made it worse. Director Scott, having carved a career out of relatively fast-paced, intricate tales such as Blade Runner, Thelma & Louise, and Someone to Watch Over Me, fumbles miserably here when it comes to keeping the momentous doings moving. His two-ton Exodus travels at a snail’s pace (even God would lose patience holding up the Red Sea for this slow a crew).
To be fair, some of the special effects were riveting. In particular the plagues that befell the city of Memphis leading up to the Jews crossing the Red Sea were awesome. The parting of the waters puts previous Biblical epics to shame. If Scott could have coaxed performances out of his actors to match these CGI effects, then he’d really have had something. Or maybe he could have cast this movie better …
As it is, this holiday film is a perfect sedative for shoppers who haven’t gotten enough sleep during the hectic season. For those who want an inspiring dose of Jewish heroism and divine intervention, they’d be better off renting The Ten Commandments.
Paul Dervis has been teaching drama in Canada at Algonquin College as well as the theatre conservatory Ottawa School of Speech & Drama for the past 15 years. Previously he ran theatre companies in Boston, New York, and Montreal. He has directed over 150 stage productions, receiving two dozen awards for his work. Paul has also directed six films, the most recent being 2011’s The Righteous Tithe.