(US/Spain - 2014)
Directed by Ridley Scott. Written by Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, Jeffrey Caine and Steven Zaillian. Cast: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Ben Kingsley, Sigourney Weaver, John Turturro, Aaron Paul, Ben Mendelsohn, Maria Valverde, Hiam Abbass, Ewen Bremner, Isaac Andrews, Indira Varma, Golshifteh Farahani, Ghassan Massoud, Tara Fitzgerald, Dar Salim, Andrew Tarbet, Ken Bones, Hal Hewetson, Kevork Malikyan, Giannina Facio. (PG-13, 150 mins)
EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS, Ridley Scott's epic, gargantuan retelling of the saga of Moses and Ramses, arrives on a wave of controversy so large that it could riding the parted Red Sea. Yes, the lead actors have an overwhelmingly white shade to them, no matter how much bronzing makeup they're wearing, and such casting is as antiquated a notion as massive, bloated Biblical epics of the Cecil B. DeMille variety. On one hand, it's nice to see something like this getting made today, but on the other, whether it's the legitimate issues of casting or addressing concerns of religious audiences, attempting a film of this sort in 2014 just seems to be asking for trouble, as evidenced by the myriad of theological hissy-fits surrounding the release of Darron Aronofsky's NOAH earlier this year.
concerns about Joaquin Phoenix's petulant Commodus). There's other interesting elements, like some present-day political parallels and the vengeful, Old Testament God being a little kid. Bale is a suitably driven, intense Moses and there's some ambiguity whether this could all be in his head. Though he doesn't take a strictly secular approach, Scott attempts to rationalize some of the more spiritual elements, such as the parting of the Red Sea being a catastrophic weather event complete with storms and swirling funnel clouds. The visual effects in the last third of the film, particularly the show-stopping parting of the Red Sea and Ramses' army's chariots trying to navigate narrow mountain roads, are jawdropping in 3D. But there's some negatives: as Ramses, Edgerton has little to do but scoff and scowl after a while, and the rest of the cast is really left adrift by some choppy editing and what would seem to be a contractual stipulation that Scott keep the film at 150 minutes, which it clocks in at exactly. Scott is one of the chief proponents of director's cuts and extended versions for DVD and Blu-ray (the director's cut of his 2005 epic KINGDOM OF HEAVEN being a textbook case held in especially high regard), and it's often painfully obvious that there's a longer EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS that will be surface at some point in the future (maybe doing this as a high-profile HBO or Netflix miniseries where characters and conflicts could be adequately established and built upon would've been a better idea). After a strong start, details start getting glossed over on the way to Moses' exile and then again during his return and the plagues, and Scott starts filling in the blanks with montages. Kingsley is in the whole film and is the focus of a few scenes, but mainly he's just hanging around in the background. At least he gets the spotlight once in a while, which is more than you can say for Aaron Paul as Joshua and Sigourney Weaver as Seti's wife Tuya, both of whom have almost no dialogue and whose entire roles consist of little beyond nodding or looking concerned about something someone else has said (Ramses is reluctant to banish Moses, and it's implied that Tuya is actually behind his forced exile, but it's hard to tell, since all she does is glare at him when it's brought up). Weaver had more screen time with her cameo in THE CABIN IN THE WOODS, and she and Paul are nothing more than prominently-billed extras here. Like KINGDOM OF HEAVEN's theatrical cut, it's a safe assumption that what's here is a compromised, incomplete version, and it's likely that a longer cut will expand on the themes and give its supporting cast something to do. As it is, EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS is a visually stunning piece of filmmaking, but unfortunately, it feels like you're only getting about 75% of it.