Take a Drink: for each animal killed
Take a Drink: during each jaw-dropping setpiece
Take a Drink: for each eccentric costume
Take a Drink: each time Ramses yells
Do a Shot: each time Moses’s beard grows
By: Matt Conway (Three Beers) –
From creating classics like Alien to now, it’s amazing to think about how drastic of a change Ridley Scott’s career has seen. Scott had previously been one of the most influential directors working, changing science fiction forever with Blade Runner, while also directing other impact flicks like Thelma and Louise, Gladiator, and Black Hawk Down. Recently, however, Ridley has somehow lost his touch as a director, with most of his projects being rather mediocre. Prometheus has its fair share of fans, but both Body of Lies and Robin Hood were just flat out bland.
His latest film, Exodus: Gods and Kings, has come under even more scrutiny than his other recent films. Not only were many in general not looking forward to the film, but Scott came under fire for casting a predominately white cast in roles where the characters are Egyptian. His point of not being able to make the film itself without these actors makes some sense, but the way Scott passed it off as people over-analyzing was off entirely. The fact that there are minorities in the film, but playing minor roles such as thieves, makes the film in a lot of ways an example of whitewashing. Despite the controversy, Exodus: Gods and Kings is a flawed, yet enjoyable epic.
Exodus: Gods and Kings follows the classical biblical tale of Moses, a Hebrew and former general who leads an slave uprising against Pharaoh Ramses, who he viewed as his brother for most of his life.
As one would expect from a Ridley Scott film, the production design of the film itself is fantastic. Scott utilizes his large budget to his advantage, creating lavish sets that have dozens of extras on screen. Scott still is great at creating a sense of scope, with the film certainly being able to capture the overall epic sweep it is going for. There is quite a bit of CGI used for the backdrops, but the effects as whole actually are implemented quite seamlessly with the practical sets. Cinematographer Dariuz Wolski does a great job as well of capturing the landscape with a real sense of mood.
Scott is also still quite talented at creating a damn good action sequence, and does so here. The action is filmed quite well, lacking in the shaky cam that is used often in action films. The sense of scope really adds to these setpieces, with the hundreds of extras battling making these moments feel very authentic. Perhaps the most impressive setpieces are the plagues, which are actually quite horrifying to watch at points. For the most part, the action is done with restraint, with there not being too many action setpieces.
For as much flak as the cast has gotten with their roles, some members of the cast shine. Christian Bale has proved time and time again to be one of the best actors working today, and does a great job with a role that could have been just meh. Bale is able to portray Moses as a passionate, yet flawed man, who wants to do what’s right but is still somewhat confused about what that might be. Bale has a great deal of conviction as usual, especially with some of the more dramatic moments in the film. Other actors like Ben Mendelsohn and John Turturro also do a solid job with their respective supporting roles.
Exodus: Gods and King’s best aspect is the moral ambiguity the film has, which I was quite surprised to see. The film portrays God as a child, and this depiction was a rather interesting one. Instead of painting God as sort of heroic figure, the film portrays God as a self-centered and brash child, who wants what is best for his people at no matter the cost. This level of moral ambiguity was a nice surprise and actually added a great deal to story.
Speaking of the story, it’s still the same classic tale that audiences know, but it’s still told well. The story of Moses is one of those stories that is almost too good to truly mess up, with there still being the same dramatic tension. Exodus in general is a for the most part faithful, sometimes to a fault, retelling of the classic story, and while that is somewhat safe, I did not mind that after seeing Noah make so many drastic changes that did not work.
While Bale’s Moses is an interesting and complicated character, Ramses is rather dull. Joel Edgerton is a talented actor, but just seems miscast as Ramses here, and just does an adequate job as the head-strong leader. This is particularly a problem with this film, as one of the main emotional thrusts of the Moses story is how the two men, after spending years as brothers, are now battling against each other. With Ramses having no dimension as a character, that emotional core is just not present. That core is what gave other adaptations of this story like Prince of Egypt even more weight.
Most of the supporting cast itself is just very underutilized in general. Scott has assembled an all-star cast, but a great deal of these respected talents have little to no dialogue. Ben Kingsley and Sigourney Weaver spend most of the film just standing around in the background, and I did not even know til checking IMDb after the film that Aaron Paul was in it.The casting of big names for such insignificant parts is just a waste of funds and these actors’ time.
While Scott as usual nails all of the production aspects of these movies, he continues to miss the human element. Scott just seems somewhat distant as a director from his material, and that shows in the film. The film never makes a full-hearted attempt at any meaningful emotional core, which is a big part of what makes this story so influential. Scott goes for the brains here rather than the heart, but adaptations like Prince of Egypt were able to convey both so well. Scott may not be directing terrible films like Robin Hood anymore, but he still just seems out of form compared to his other work.
Exodus: Gods and Kings sadly ends on more of a whimper then a bang. After the film peaks with the fantastic plagues, the rest of the film seemingly just pales in comparison, with the pacing getting uneven with the third act. The big climax of the film is the parting of the Red Sea, and while it looks quite good, it does not have the same impact as the plague setpieces, leading the film to not end on its highest note. It just seems like a more meaningful confrontation between Moses and Ramses would have improved the climax a great deal more.
Exodus: Gods and Kings is not quite the sweeping epic that Scott and company intended, but it’s an enjoyable blockbuster featuring some great setpieces and an overall solid re-telling of a classic tale. Still, it seems like Ridley Scott’s best days are behind him as a director, which is very sad to see.