The debate over Ridley Scott’s decision to cast white gentiles in Ancient Hebrew and Egyptian roles in Exodus: Gods and Kings is worth having, but it might carry a bit more weight if the movie were any good. If the forced 3D and mixed-bag special effects had matched Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, maybe we’d be able to take Scott’s argument seriously about how he needed the white A-list cast to secure a big studio budget. If the performances themselves felt like anything but first takes from an ensemble of normally gifted actors who somehow show no chemistry reciting unintentionally hilarious dialogue, then maybe we could argue meaningfully about colorblind casting. But alas, all we are left with is an overlong, redundant, unnecessary epic and the only thing worth marveling at is how Hollywood finally managed to out-WASP Charlton Heston in the role of Noah by hiring someone named “Christian.”
Exodus: God and Kings follows the complicated relationship between Moses (Christian Bale) and Ramses (Joel Edgerton), raised as brothers under the Pharaoh Seti I (John Turturro…yes, really). Many of the story’s familiar elements are here; Moses discovering his roots, becoming a simple goat herder and family man in anonymity, hearing the voice of God, plagues, Red Sea, the works.
Where Exodus differs from most depictions—and what the film puts forward as its main conceit—is an intentionally ambiguous, naturalistic view of God’s personality, motives and what the direct hand of God would actually look and feel like. God appears as an angry, unimpressed child to Moses after he is hit on the head with a rock during a mudslide in what looks and feels like a hallucination. From then on, the child will appear to Moses, not to give orders or insight, but to cajole or harass him into doing better. When the plagues hit Egypt, they don’t appear altogether supernatural and it doesn’t appear that Ramses’ heart is actively hardened by God as much as he was unworthy of power from the beginning. This of course leads to the conclusion we all knew was coming at the Red Sea, but with what may be the worst, most confusing outcome of an action sequence in film history.
All of these missteps aside, the biggest trouble with Exodus is on a conceptual level. What does it contribute to the mythos? How is it anything but a me-too cash-in on Noah? If anything, it harkens back less to the iconic but flawed The Ten Commandments and more to Scott’s own failed Robin Hood starring Russell Crowe in how it half-asses its way through a familiar tale, relying on iconic moments while taking bizarre deviations that go nowhere in particular.
With a half-finished script (never has the word “economics” been so unintentionally funny), inexplicable miscasting of good actors (Sigourney Weaver? Aaron Paul?) and the least rousing battle scene of any big-budget epic, the only good things worth looking forward to with Exodus: Gods and Kings are the horribly misinformed religious school homework assignments from kids who watched this instead of doing their assigned reading.
Playing this week
Big Hero 6
Dumb and Dumber To
Horrible Bosses 2
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1
Penguins of Madagascar
The Theory of Everything
Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX