Whatever can be said of Ridley Scott’s directorial career one thing is for certain: the man is a chameleon. He’s built a body of work that has encompassed everything from bona-fide sci-fi classics (Alien, Blade Runner), period dramas (The Duellists, 1492: Conquest of Paradise), quirky comedies (A Good Year, Matchstick Men), blockbuster thrillers (Prometheus, Hannibal), war (Black Hawk Down) and straight drama (Thelma & Louise). His most recent work has returned him to the genre that re-invigorated his career with Gladiator at the turn of the millenium, a good old sword and sandals epic.
Maybe it’s because we’ve seen Scott in familiar territory before but Exodus: Gods and Kings will not stand as one of his towering achievements. Feeling like a spiritual brother to 2004’s Kingdom of Heaven, another sprawlingly epic telling of men who fight in the name of religion, Exodus manages to feel both overlong and unfulfilling.
A more down-to-Earth telling of the old testament story of Moses and his mission from God to free the slaves this telling of the story has it all. Moses’ (Christian Bale) early brotherly relationship with Ramses (Joel Edgerton), his relationship with Pharoah Seti (an oddly cast John Turturro), his role as government enforcer on a reconnaissance trip to meet a naughty viceroy played by Ben Mendelson. Then Ben Kingsley pops up, Moses is banished because Sigourney Weaver doesn’t like him. He becomes a shepherd, marries a lady, has a son, sees a burning bush, goes back to the city to flee slaves, there’s plagues, Aaron Paul turns up out of the blue, lots of walking around, big wave, more walking end.
Sound glib? Yeah it does. Well that’s the weight that Scott and his four writers seem to give to most of this subjects. Plot points and characters are here and gone in a flash with little explanation. Seriously Aaron Paul’s character suddenly materialises as a character we’re supposed to know and give a damn about. Sigourney Weaver’s much touted re-teaming with the director is a damn squib of a chest buster as she pops up in a couple of scenes and vanishes again. It’s been said that there is a four hour cut of the film. I don’t doubt that this is where most of the plot intricacies have vanished as the whole thing feels like a very long montage. Never at any point do you actually feel anything for these characters, this is Scott the visualizer, not storyteller at work.
Performance wise the film is Joel Edgerton’s who manages to make Ramses more than an out and out boo-hiss villain. Bringing his strong physique to a role that also requires moments of fear, tenderness and cruelty it’s one of his best. Bale on the other hand just does that stern thing he does well, then whispers a bit when it’s time for him to be sad. Plus it’s always good to hear him go cockney when he’s screaming at God – here symbolised by a creepy looking boy.
Exodus is certainly not without charm. As mentioned Edgerton and a few other performances carry things along and as always the visuals are beautiful to behold. Grand sweeping shots of ancient cities through a combination of impressive CGI and colour palette make it a very pretty thing to look at. The first act is also perfectly engaging. Talk of insurrection from within the government and treachery plays out well. It’s just as soon as we hit the desert things really disengage interest as it becomes the montage of storytelling.
One other thing that Ridley Scott does do well though is allowing distributors to put out all the stops on his Blu-Ray releases. In this case the 3 disc set comes with the fascinating Keepers of the Covenant documentary that covers the entire process of the films creation. It’s actually a much more compelling watch than the film itself. When you see the time and minds at work in Exodus‘ creation it makes you want to watch the film all over again, plus makes you wish the film turned out better. There’s also a more academic film about the mythical figure of Moses throughout the ages and a wealth of visuals which include some of Scott’s own drawings which is always a treat. Topped off with a commentary with the man himself who is always a bluntly listenable raconteur it’s a handsome package. It’s just a shame that it’s a case where the film isn’t quite the some of it’s Blu-Ray extras.
3/5 (if only for the glorious visuals)
Dir: Ridley Scott
Scr: Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, Jeffrey Caine, Steve Zaillian
Starring: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, John Turturro, Aaron Paul, Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kingsley
Prd: Ridley Scott, Peter Chernin, Mohammed El Raie, Michael Schaefer, Jenno Topping
DOP: Dariusz Wolski
Music: Alberto Iglesias
Country: UK, USA, Spain
Run time: 150 mins
Disc 1 – Blu-ray 3D™
- Exodus: Gods and Kings in High Definition 3D
Disc 2 – Blu-ray™ Disc
- Exodus: Gods and Kings in High Definition
- The Exodus Historical Guide, a Feature length Trivia Track
- Nine (9) Deleted and Extended Scenes (in 3D and 2D)
- Audio Commentary by Director/Producer Ridley Scott and Co-Screenwriter Jeffrey Caine
Disc 3 – Blu-ray™ Bonus Features
- Keepers of the Covenant Documentary including 14 Enhancement Pods
- The Lawgiver’s Legacy: Moses Throughout History
- The Gods and Kings Archive
- Promotional Featurettes
- Multi-Angle Pre-Visualization: The Red Sea
Exodus: Gods and Kings is available on Blu-Ray and DVD from April 27th and on digital platforms now.