EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS – Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, John Turturro, Ben Kingsley, Sigourney Weaver, directed by Ridley Scott (150 min.)
There is an ill wind blowing in Exodus: Gods and Kings very early on, when John Turturro appears as Seti, father of Ramses (Joel Edgerton). Now, I am aware of the controversy surrounding the whitewashing of a film set in the Mediterranean and focusing on Egyptian and Hebrew characters who would most certainly not be Caucasian, but that wasn’t my issue with Turturro in this role. My issue was, well, it’s John Turturro! He has no business playing dress up in Egyptian garb, supposedly being the leader of one of the most powerful kingdoms in World history. Turturro is a great actor, but in the right roles, and here he stuck out like a sore thumb.
Maybe I am getting sidetracked with the casting of Turturro, whose role is small in Ridley Scott’s biblical epic. But it is just the tip of the iceberg the film crashes into early and often. Exodus is a complete mess of a film, despite the best efforts of Christian Bale who plays the hero, Moses. The casting might be the least of its problems, as the screenplay and the flow of the film and just the overall look and feel is all wrong.
Let’s start with the script and work our way through the wreckage. The story is familiar to just about everyone, focusing on Moses and Ramses and an Old Testament God who brings a plague upon the Egyptian people and picks Moses to lead the Hebrew slaves to freedom through the Red Sea. This is a story set, here anyway, in 1300 B.C. And yet, this screenplay, apparently written by four adult human beings, reads like it takes place a month ago in California, not in ancient Egypt. The dialogue is one-hundred percent contemporary, and a complete distraction as such. I cannot believe four people collaborated to do absolutely no research regarding the rhythm, the speech patterns, or the vocabulary of an ancient civilization. This is just one of many obvious cases of studio interference, as they feared any sort of real language from 1300 B.C. as a hindrance to audiences and box office numbers.
Did I mention the film is a carbon copy of Scott’s far superior Gladiator?
Now, as I take a deep breath, let’s look at this cast. Whitewashed, yes, but any Egyptian or Mediterranean actor who was passed over should consider it a blessing in disguise. While Christian Bale once again shines, as he always does, and tries to save the whole endeavor, he cannot carry the weight of the entire film. Edgerton is fine as Ramses, I suppose, but is non threatening as antagonist. He does a lot fo walking around lighting things with his torch. Oh, and Sigourney Weaver plays his mother in the film, but she is on camera less than five minutes and has maybe two lines. Why hire Weaver and have her do absolutely nothing?
Exodus looks and feels completely packaged by Hollywood. It is glossy and homogenized to a point of being embarrassing. Very little dirt and grime exudes from the screen, and all of these actors (except Bale) look like they are playing around in costumes. I never once believed anything in the film, and never felt any connection to the actors. The consequences of the characters mean nothing.
Ridley Scott needs to sit down, take a deep breath, and really think about his next film. I have heard it is going to be an adaptation of the novel The Martian. In my opinion, he needs to work hard at this to make it something special, or the great films of his past will become harder and harder to remember.