Release: Friday, December 12, 2014
Written by: Adam Cooper; Bill Collage; Jeffrey Caine; Steven Zaillian
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Often I feel that I am needlessly ambiguous with what I’m trying to say in past reviews, but here I have this concern I am going to be too overt. The great Ridley Scott — yes, the one of Gladiator fame — has clearly relied too much on star talent to help carry his Biblical ‘epic’ (and sorry to those who think the word is inextricably linked to prepubescent Bieber fandom) to the Promised Land. Top billed are terrible in their roles while a boring and unevenly paced script contributes to a disastrous outing for all involved.
GODS VS. KINGS
Somewhere in the dust and ruin of his attempt at resurrecting temples he once had so majestically created, there’s a lesson to be learned for Sir Ridley Scott. If there were one commandment I would issue immediately, as someone who has been eagerly anticipating this supposed return to form, it would be for him to refrain from treating his selected actors as gods and kings. Forget Christian Bale’s mixed South African and Welsch ancestry. Forget Joel Edgerton’s emo eye-liner — he at least looks better in it than Bale sounds like with whatever accent he’s trying to pull off here. And you can forget all about Cecil B. De Mille’s commitment to Charlton Heston (oh, swoon!) in the 1956 classic The Ten Commandments. Indeed, the only thing that shall be remembered over the course of a whopping two-and-a-half hours, is the pain of watching one of the premier filmmakers of our time climbing out of a dank, oppressive cave with a single message inscribed on a rock tablet:
“(I’ve) let my standards go!”
In the Gladiator director’s newest venture out into the sands of Egypt Bale takes on the role of Moses, a former Egyptian General banished by his legal, but not blood, brother Prince Ramses (Edgerton) into exile after it becomes evident what Moses’ true blood lineage is. Raised in a climate of political convenience rather than one of familial love, Moses conflicts with Ramses ideologically, emotionally and eventually physically. All signs point to Ramses’ deep-seated envy of his sort-of-brother. This is a relationship dynamic we’ve known for as long as we’ve been out of grade school as well as it being a classic example of the friend-turned-foe story. It’s also the strongest bargaining chip Mr. Scott has at keeping an audience on board here. And we agree; we are too curious as to how thing will play out between these versions.
While he appreciates the relationship between Moses and Ramses, he is much less appreciative of his peripheral vision. Rather than going the Jim Caviezel route by casting someone who at least looked the part, and through coating much of his cast in a thick smathering of tanning lotion (this is actually the story of how Moses goes to the beach and gets badly sunburned), Scott surprisingly approved of everything here without what one would naturally assume to be a pressing need to fire a casting director, or even someone in make-up and wardrobe. Not that these actors aren’t talented. And we can’t pretend that it’s an alien concept for a big studio and a big director to skirt past native actors in search of bigger box-office draws. But why does everyone have to look like the Beach Boys? The likes of Edgerton, Bale, Ben Mendelsohn (who plays the creepy Viceroy Hegep with gleeful abandon) and Sigourney Weaver are caked in comical cosmetics that distract more than they contribute, but this isn’t the major issue. Visually, at least these pretty peeps eventually blend in with the dulcet environs.
Frustratingly Exodus: Gods and Kings — I’ve never been one to read into film titles too deeply, but this particular subtitle does seem superfluous — is intent on featuring caricatures rather than characters. Bale is ridiculously over-the-top as he forces vigilante machismo into a character that has decidedly much less of that built into his DNA. Edgerton acts like the spoiled brat Pharaoh Ramses apparently was. After succeeding the Pharaoh Seti (John Turturro, also ridiculous-looking when bald), Ramses becomes something of a harbinger of doom, driving the Hebrew slaves to the brink of collapse through extremely hard labor and miserable working conditions. As if life wasn’t tough enough before. During Moses’ exile, he learns of these changing conditions back home in Memphis and despite having formed a family with the beautiful Zipporah (María Valverde) he vows to return and free over 600,000 Hebrews from his brother’s oppressive, bloodthirsty rule.
WE ARE NOT ENTERTAINED!
It’s not the big picture Mr. Scott misses. Though Exodus hardly inspires with its languid pacing — that’s actually a compliment, as it drags for a good 75 minutes out of a grand total of 150 — there is definitive movement in the saga and the enthusiasm for Moses’ finest hour begins to build in earnest when the plagues set in. But even then, it’s a dash of visual splendor that sits a little too long in waiting and appears somewhat randomly in gradually darkening skies. Rest assured, if those in attendance are awaiting spectacle, they will still get it. But it’s too little too late.
His placement of the plagues and the parting of the Red Sea — each element elegant in their CGI rendering — ought to be considered the equivalent of audiences sitting in for Gladiator and having minimum expectations of seeing Russell Crowe in leather jockeys. Yes he dons such a garment, but this doesn’t exactly complete the character. And it says nothing about the way Mr. Scott’s masterpiece captures ancient history in all its grim and bloody frankness; says little about the defiance of a single gladiator who goes up against the Roman empire — except that maybe our fearless leader has an eye for men in skivvies.
But this sadly is no laughing matter. It’s difficult trying to rectify the substantial decrease in quality between the film that came out at the turn of the millennium and the one we’ve just been handed on a not-so-silver platter. If you factor in how much Exodus seems to mime the story arc of Gladiator the coalition for reason becomes even weaker. Formulaically speaking, this is no different from the adventures of Maximus Decimus Meridius. A man has his pride and political status stripped from him following a particularly bitter (and yes, unfair) betrayal, then must strike out on his own into the great unknown before deciding to return balance to the universe. Crowe had at it first, and Crowe comes out on top on almost all counts. But if we were judging this based on who rides a gigantic tidal wave of water better, then the odds are more in Moses’ favor.
As an undertaking, Exodus is a mightily ambitious undertaking. It’s easy to dismiss the film as a redundant journey back in time to a place where religious conflict brimmed more heatedly than any of those scenes between Bruce and Rachel. (Or Miranda Tate — that part was actually better.) Maybe we really didn’t need it. Maybe I was just foolish in expecting great things here. Though it’s hard to not get excited when the likes of Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton (and throw in Sigourney Weaver for the hell of it) are involved, when there’s a director of Mr. Scott’s stature leading the charge.
Casting controversy aside, Exodus is simply a film with few excuses for becoming as flaccid a drama as it truly becomes. It’s mired in surprisingly subpar performances, drifting narrative pacing and an unenthusiastic, although granted, educational, tone. No one on screen ever feels inspired. And to say that about this particular cast is a move that ought to make one feel the need to exile themselves to. . . . well, somewhere else. For right now anyway, it looks like the opposite case is going to hold true.
Recommendation: If you were holding out hope that Exodus could survive the plague of criticism that has washed over it in the past week, let me drown that hope right now. It’s not a good movie. If the odd casting decisions don’t strike you (the argument being staged for racist casting is just plain nonsense by the way; the move to hire Bale and Edgerton in particular was one of financial matters, and this is clear) then the slow, awkward pacing and the sloppy dialogue surely will. I’m done talking about this movie. Two thousand words later.
Running Time: 150 mins.
Quoted: “You sleep well because you are loved. I’ve never slept that well.”
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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com
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This just seems too bloated and lacking in anything of true value for me. Also, and maybe a little of a controversial opinion, I don’t find Gladiator too interesting either (really boring in places), but at least that had good acting and a solid score. Great review man.
All great observations MMJ, I would have to completely agree with you and empathize with that side. There’s very little actually substance here; it is a story we have seen told and told again; I honestly thought Scott would be the one to give it some personality. It’s shocking this didn’t happen.
Thanks for swinging on by again man!
I agree with the racial thing being nonsense. Whenever I stumble across a review that even suggests that the casting choices were racist…I immediately say “fuck off” (in my head) and stop reading the review. STUPID.
Shame that no-one really delivered here. I haven’t been looking forward to this one and I don’t care if I ever watch it.
Also…screw the religious controversy as well. Those fools who are complaining are annoying.
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Hahah! Great to have another great mind on DSB’s side, the racist controversy is a bit much. People are what they are though and will say some really silly things to create a buzz. Where it got a bit much for me was when people were claiming to effectively boycott the film. Now *that* is just stupid.
The only actor I could maybe be comfortable with saying they delivered anything memorable is the kid who plays ‘God.’ Lol! That’s about as much of an acting take-away as I could eke out of this bumbling production. So frustrating dude; 8 months’ worth of anticipation was quashed within 45 minutes of viewing.
God is a child?
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Shit. That’s my bad Louie.
Hopefully this one little slip of spoilery-info won’t ruin the experience overall for you. 😦
I don’t really consider that a spoiler, but I shouldn’t have mentioned him. Hahah. should have let it be a surprise. If you still plan on seeing this, that is!
No. I find that hilarious enough to make it worth a watch.
That is the best thing I’ve heard about this movie. Period.
Hahah! Awesome. Children with massive God-complexes? Yes. Glad I could sell another ticket. 😉
Hmm, I wasn’t going to bother with this simply because it isn’t playing at the theatre I frequent. Now I know why it isn’t playing heh.
Nicely written dude
Hahah, that’s pretty crazy. I feel like this is a huge movie, but given the horrible critical reception (its audience votes aren’t much better either) I guess some theaters just aren’t going to show it. Unless your local theater is an indie/arthouse place?
Oh well. The big question is ‘why?’ Why would Scott want to do this picture? Sure I’m intrigued, but this strikes me as hubris. Smart work Tom.
Tis a good question, but I figured it would be another opportunity for Scott to go back into the history books and cast a different light on this well-worn story. Instead he re-hashes generalities, and doesn’t appear to give his cast enough time to get their performances nuanced enough. Edgerton def is the hardest working cat here.
Just bizarre man. This, to me, had so much promise.
Great review Tom. When the movie was announced, I was cautiously hoping if this would be Scott’s return to form but I expected it to be crappy haha. I”ll pass on Exodus, so many other worthy movies for me to catch up on right now. 🙂
Ridley Scott’s certainly parting no Red Seas in this production man, it’s a shame to say. There exists some cool stuff here (I really like how easy it is to define the overarching saga of Moses’ life — from general, banished into exile, becomes a shepherd, returns to Memphis, etc) and that is squarely upon Scott’s shoulders to make that happen. But how it develops and how it is acted is very, very questionable. the entire thing just seems too clumsily handled to be made by professionals of this caliber.
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I actually kind of like the movie and didn’t find it boring although it definitely has some flaws. While I agree that Bale gave a wooden performance, I think Joel Edgerton was great, he elevated the scenes he was in.
Hey Sherise, very happy to hear you enjoyed it. There needs to be more positivity in here, because Exodus was such a grand experience. I wish I liked it more. I was not so much a fan of Edgerton here, but I loved loved loved him in Warrior (I believe the only other role of his I’ve seen so far). Glad to know you liked him though, for sure.
There was definitely something to the ease with which Edgerton portrayed the unhinged, childish ways of Ramses, esp during the plagues.
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You should give The Great Gatsby a try, Joel is really good in that too. He’s a very charismatic actor. I haven’t seen Warrior yet, but I keep meaning to.
Oh crap, wow I totally forgot he portrayed Tom Buchanan in that, didn’t he? Okay, so make that three performances I’ve seen of his now. 🙂 And yes, he was solid in The Great Gatsby. Thanks for the reminder.
Edgerton was great in Felony too, dunno if that made it stateside. It was a great movie, probably would have been better suited to a TV mini-series but it was a great movie none-the-less. See why on my blog ; D!
I have never seen (or even heard of) Felony man. Thanks for the heads up! I’ll be on by your page in a bit man to check it out. 😀
“(I’ve) let my standards go!” Ahah, too funny Tom! Well, I believe you’ve read my friend Ted’s review. Seems like you both are on the same page on this. I might rent it just for the laughs, that way I can just fast forward the boring stuff.
😀 Tee-hee. A pun a day keeps the writing doldrums away. Or something like that.
Ted’s review I do remember reading yes, and it’s with great sadness that a great many reviews are like ours. Exodus just got killed. There are some very valid reasons, but I think there are less valid ones and a lot of those have been unfair to the film and to the ones who put in the effort to make it. That said, a director Scott’s stature now making back-to-back flops (this and The Counselor now), it’s becoming a bit concerning. . . .
Good idea on the rental! You might be using that FF button a lot. 😉
Sad. Exodus has gotten universally horrible reviews by everyone. I am probably going to skip it since there are just too many great movies out there at the moment. Nice review.
P.S. Completely separate topic, but do you get a ton of Spam in your WordPress comments? Over the past year it has gotten out of control. I am afraid to just blindly delete them all because every so often there is an actual human comment buried in amongst them. Because of the sheer number (hundreds a day) it becomes such a time suck.
Exodus is one of the year’s greater disappointments, i must say. Sad indeed. And it’s frustrating I couldn’t help steer the reviews into a more positive direction; there are just too many flaws here to do that. Lol.
I was at one point having an issue with spam, but I believe I adjusted a setting in my dashboard to send all spam to a specific spam folder, as I haven’t been really. . .e-hem. . plagued by a spam influx in quite a while. But honestly I can’t remember what I did to change that. There is some setting WP gives you to filter it out. That’s provided you haven’t already taken that step. In which case, I don’t know what else to do haha. That’s a lot of spam.
Let me play the bad guy, I liked this film despite its noticeable narrative flaws. I had a much better experience with it. I never found it boring. Instead I think the problem is with the clunky gaps in the story. But still I enjoyed it. I liked its character focus and the performances from Bale and Edgerton. Also found the effects to be some of my favorite of the year.
I guess the one place we will agree on is with the controversy. It’s the silliest and most foolish criticism that could be thrown at this film.
Anyway, LOVED the review Tom!
I was a bit hard on the film. Hahah! I really am overjoyed to hear you found the positive in Exodus buddy, I’ve had this one on my radar for sometime and unfortunately I couldn’t shake the wave of criticism that I had heard about in the run-up to the opening weekend. So I think that inability to sort of think, not really for myself but differently than the rest, kind of hurt my experience. Some performances were really good; and the visuals were outstanding. This should be nominated in that department.
And 100%, the racist casting debacle is just annoying at this point. 🙂
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I completely respect your take on it. You have every right to be hard on it if you didn’t have a good experience with it. No worries at all there. And I think you’ll notice the majority of opinions are heavily on your side. 🙂
For sure. 🙂 I am just a little saddened that I couldn’t get away from the negativity. There are those times I feel like Im going with the flow of what the majority opinion says, but here this one came from the heart. But again, it’s great to see others have a good time with it. The great Ridley Scott is sure to bounce back sooner or later.
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Fascinating review Tom, enjoyed reading. Despite the negative review here (and one or two others I’ve seen) I actually fancy going to see this anyway, purely because I haven’t watched a biblical epic for a long time. I have read a couple of positive reviews too.
‘this is actually the story of how Moses goes to the beach and gets badly sunburned’ – I laughed and now we’ll both get suntans of our own down below! And also I’m with you on the title – just call the thing Exodus, or Moses, or Gods And Kings. There’s a lot to be said for the one word title these days.
Whew. (Wipes some sweat off his brow.) I’m very glad to read that this review hasn’t put everyone off. As much as I slam it I do think it has several redeeming qualities. This movie screams ‘epic’ (I know I use that word wayy too much, but it just fits) and it has several distinctive acts, which I do like in movies. Also it’s beautiful, just beautiful to look at. Scott suitably finds a great place to shoot this movie and you really can dive back into ancient history and feel like your’e there.
Agree completely about the title of the movie — simpler is almost always better. I just saw a title the other day that had like, two words followed by a colon and then another word, and then a hyphen with like, 2 or 3 at the end of it. I couldn’t believe how convoluted a title that was! 😀
Oh wow… oh dear. I was so hoping this would be good. So sorry it was such a disappointment Tom!
Disappointment pretty much sums up Exodus, Zoe! I tried to have something a little more positive to say, but the more I kept thinking back on it the more things were coming out that just bothered me. We all have these movies. I am just saddened this was one of the year’s “bigger” films (or maybe just in terms of story. . . after all I’m not sure if anyone was anticipating this after the controversy of ‘Noah’ early this year.)
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It’s not just a total snoozer, but doesn’t quite offer anything interesting to the story of Moses that we haven’t already seen or heard of before. It’s just the same old story, except, a whole lot more boring. Good review.
I would generally agree with that, but I didn’t think Scott necessarily needed to break into Darren Aronofsky mode and take this story in an entirely new direction. (I did like Noah, though, so not that doing things differently is a problem.) But here he just doesn’t seem to be able to summon up the same kind of passion and energy as he has in many of his older works. I just don’t understand what happened here. It’s such a bad film.
Disappointing to hear all the negative reviews towards this one. So much potential wasted.
Ryan as much as I tried going in to keep my optimism about me, it just simply wasn’t possible this time. Hahah. I carried in with me a lot of the criticisms and unfortunately wasn’t able to shake them throughout. It is pretty disappointing, dude, I gotta say since I have been looking forward to this since January. Maybe even last Dcember. C’est la vie . . . .
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