US Release Date: 12-12-2014
Directed by: Ridley Scott
- Christian Bale, as
- Joel Edgerton, as
- Ramesses II
- John Turturro, as
- Seti I
- Aaron Paul, as
- Ben Mendelsohn, as
- Ben Kingsley, as
- Sigourney Weaver, as
- Maria Valverde, as
- Indira Varma, as
- High Priestess
- Hiam Abbass, as
- Kevork Malikyan, as
- Anton Alexander, as
- Golshifteh Farahani, as
- Tara Fitzgerald, as
- Dar Salim, as
- Andrew Tarbet, as
- Issac Andrews as
Christian Bale as Moses in Exodus: Gods and Kings.
Ridley Scott's new big budget CGI version of the story of Moses is a completely unnecessary remake. Skip this and watch DeMille's campy epic The Ten Commandments or the 1998 animated The Prince of Egypt to see the story told in a much more entertaining fashion. Exodus: Gods and Kings alternates between over-the-top CGI spectacle and a dull, plodding pace. One minute giant crocodiles are turning the waters of the Nile red with blood and the next Moses is morosely walking through the wilderness.
One cringe-worthy aspect of the movie is the indefensible decision to cast Caucasian actors in ancient Hebrew and Egyptian roles. For The Prince of Egypt nearly 20 years ago the animated characters were shown with skin colors of various shades of brown. Even though they were voiced mostly by Caucasian actors it was progress. Now it's a new millennium but apparently we are digressing. And it isn't bad enough that Christian Bale is Moses, the movie also portrays God as a petulant white boy with a British accent. The dark skinned characters are always in the background, used decoratively to set the scene but not given anything of substance to do.
If you are going to miscast your movie so obviously then at least make it campy like DeMille did. Anne Baxter was hilarious as Nefertari – in this version her part has been greatly reduced. The closest this movie gets to camp was the casting of John Turturro as Seti I, which is almost as unintentionally funny as Edward G. Robinson was as Dathan. But under Ridley Scott's direction the tone of the movie is relentlessly somber and even lugubrious at times. Bale, likewise, plays Moses without a hint of levity. He brings his usual intensity to the role but it feels forced.
And even though the movie skips over Moses as a baby being discovered in the bulrushes as well as the whole debauched golden calf episode it still manages to run far too long. The Prince of Egypt told the same story in less than 100 minutes. It takes forever for the various plagues to occur. And the director is inconsistent in that he tries to explain some of the plagues (like the crocodile attack that I don't remember from the Bible) and other miracles by natural causes. But since the movie clearly shows the existence of God, what's the point of this?
Exodus: Gods and Kings tells the same familiar story we all know so well but it does so at a snail's pace and it's completely devoid of humor. It's the story of Moses told completely by the numbers. Ridley Scott has removed the fun as well as any feeling of sacred awe. I have no idea who the target audience for this movie is. Like Noah from earlier in the year, it plays fast and loose with Biblical scripture, which is sure to offend some viewers, and it is too dull and plodding to serve as a purely entertaining epic for mass consumption.
Joel Edgerton and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings.
Although I think Patrick's fair enough that he would admit if he enjoyed this movie, I'd also say that, given his love of old film, this movie would have to have been something extraordinary for him to think that it was a necessary remake. However, given how ordinary this movie is, it's plain to see that his resolve never even came close to being tested. The real problem with this movie is that the filmmakers aren't pious enough to remain wholly faithful to the original Bible story, but neither are they bold enough to take daring risks with it. The result is, as Patrick indicated, a middle of the road bore that isn't exciting enough to entertain, nor interesting enough to offend.
At the beginning of the story it seems that the filmmakers want to leave the existence of God up to the audience. Moses hits his head before seeing and hearing the Burning Bush and so we are left to wonder whether or not he's hallucinating. Later, as Patrick indicated, the plagues are all explained by natural means, at least up until the final one, which has no rational explanation beyond divine intervention. So, as Patrick asked, what was the point of trying to make the audience think otherwise?
The cast makes such little impact that I couldn't be bothered to be bothered by Caucasian actors playing Middle Eastern characters. Honestly, it's one of the film's least problems. Turturro is the most obviously miscast. Some actors just aren't suited to appear in period films and he is one of them. Sigourney Weaver and Ben Kingsley aren't so much miscast as wasted. One mistimed bathroom break and you might miss Weaver's only lines of dialogue. Bale is rather dull as Moses. The most exciting thing about him is his salon styled hair at the beginning of the film. I'm not sure where one purchased hair products in the B.C. era, but he seemed to have a large supply.
You might think this movie would at least succeed with its special effects. With all the power of modern CGI at his disposal, surely Ridley Scott would produce something awe inspiring. However, the special effects look so overly CGI that they seem animated at times. The 11th hour parting of the Red Sea scene should have made me say "Wow!", especially since I saw it in 3-D, but because it was so obviously computer generated the sense of awe it should have inspired was completely absent.
When Mel Gibson produced the Passion of the Christ, he stirred some controversy. However, he also knew who his target audience was and was bold enough to remain true to his vision. As a result he earned a profit and caused arguments. Exodus: Gods and Kings isn't entertaining enough to earn much money nor interesting enough to spur a debate.
Joel Edgerton as Ramses, whose father loved his nephew more than him and his only child was murdered by a sadistic God.
Like my brother Scott, I was not bothered by the casting of Caucasian actors in ancient Hebrew and Egyptian roles. Yes Patrick, the Egyptians should have all been played by people of Middle Eastern descent or at least look as if they were. However, that is merely one of many other things going on in this despicable film. Besides, Ridley Scott is going for a blockbuster. Can you name a Middle Eastern movie star big enough to open such a film and sell tickets? Historical accuracy has always been trumped by the blessed buck in movies, so the miscasting here was pretty well expected.
Where I truly agree with my brothers is something they only touched on. As Patrick wrote, Ridley Scott chose to portray God, actually his messenger, “…as a petulant white boy with a British accent” for a reason. His look was not as offensive to me as was his actions. The Old Testament of The Bible describes a vengeful, vindictive, jealous and yes, petty God. It is there in black and white for all to read. The message of worship me or suffer is throughout its pages. The plagues coming from a father figure is like a fed up parent punishing his children that he has given every possible chance to straighten up. Coming from a child, the actions just seem irrational and extreme.
To me, that seemed to be Ridley Scott’s motivation for this film. He enjoyed pointing out how cruel everyone involved in this story is, most of all God himself. Ridley Scott has freely admitted to not being a Christian and said in an interview with Religion News Service that he chose an atheist writer to give the script its, “…final polish.” He instructed the writer to deal with the subject as if it were science fiction. Ridley described how he went about telling this story, “I had to convince myself every step of the way as to what did make sense and what didn’t make sense and where I could reject and accept. And therefore I had to come to my own decisions and internal debates.”
Most of us remember Moses as a hero who, with the help of the Almighty, faced down a Pharaoh and his huge army in order to save a nation of people. The depiction of Moses here is less clear cut. Before the plagues, Moses holds a meeting with some followers where he tells them they are going to attack Egypt via its economy. Yeah, Moses becomes a terrorist. Don’t just take my word for it. Christian Bale, in the same interview, even referred to Moses as such adding that if Egypt had the technology, they would have sent drones instead of chariots after him. Moses burning the merchant boats and killing the sailors is a crime against the innocent.
This is not the first Ridley Scott film that has told an old story while trying to make a comment on modern politics. Kingdom of Heaven (2005), set during the Crusades, is certainly making a comment on modern western involvement in the Middle East. The Christians in that film do not come across well at all. For his depiction of Exodus, his bias follows suit.
Ramses and the Egyptians are shown occasionally being cruel to Jewish slaves, but it is always from a distance and, other than a brief whipping of Aaron Paul, the scenes rarely feature a character with any dialogue. In DeMille’s version, Moses was a slave so he saw and lived the atrocities. Here he, and the audience, only witnesses it in passing. Ridley shows us as many suffering Egyptians as he does Jews. The plagues are depicted as horrible actions that torture and kill as many innocent people as they do the oppressors.
It is not just that Ridley is playing fast and loose with Biblical scripture but he seems to be actively trying to make a point about this story and the Hebrew God. He spends quite a bit of celluloid on Ramses and his infant son. Ridley wants us to feels sorry for this man whose innocent child was murdered by a God. At one point that question is presented. What kind of God kills innocent children? It is a legitimate question but it is one asked by those who want to debunk God not praise him.
My brother Scott felt that Ridley and the writers were not, “…pious enough to remain wholly faithful to the original Bible story, but neither are they bold enough to take daring risks with it.” Ridley was not going for camp or satire and definitely not piety. He wanted to show the ugly side of this story on God’s side and do so within the contents of the source material. By keeping the mistreatment of the Jews mostly at a distance and putting the suffering of the Egyptians and Ramses in our faces we are intended to come away from this film rethinking the story. I know I came away from this movie thinking what a dick the Hebrew God depicted here was. Seroiusly, who do you feel more sorry for, Moses, who was raised in a palace and then given the backing of a God or Ramses, whose father loved his nephew more than him and his only child was murdered by that God?
My favorite line in the film is when John Turturro says to Bale, (I paraphrase) “The men who crave power are the ones least qualified to have it.” Judging by this film and Noah (2014), I think the men who want to create Biblical films are the least qualified to make them.
Photos © Copyright Twentieth Century Fox (2014)