“From the director that brought you Gladiator” is the tagline circling all marketing material for Exodus: Gods and Kings, but it seems Ridley Scott may have lost his touch lately. Exodus joins The Counselor, Prometheus and Robin Hood as recent Ridley Scott films that have failed to live up to expectations.
Review by Cherie Wheeler
Ridley Scott’s epic adventure Exodus: Gods and Kings follows the traditional biblical story of Moses (Christian Bale), and his exile from Egypt by King Rhamses (Joel Edgerton). In a similar vein to Darren Aronofsky’s Noah from earlier this year, Scott has reimagined this religious tale with a multimillion dollar budget, and flashy visual effects.
I have a genuine fondness for grand scale movies set in ancient times, and count titles such as Braveheart (1995) and Gladiator (2000) as some of my all time favourites, but these are rare examples of films that have managed to succeed in this genre. In 2014 alone, Hercules, 300: Rise Of An Empire and Pompeii have demonstrated how character development and narrative can so easily get lost to action sequences and spectacle, and whilst Exodus is certainly a much higher caliber of film than these, it sadly does not reach anywhere near the heights of the Academy Award winning films mentioned above.
Similar to Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby (2013), Exodus puts the majority of its efforts into production design, cinematography and special effects, and the result is a spectacular feast for the eyes. The sheer scale of this film is mind blowing with countless extras, multiple extreme wide shots of digitally recreated ancient Egypt, and fascinating attention to detail on costumes and set interiors. Joel Edgerton’s glamorous, jewel-encrusted, Egyptian outfits are particularly impressive.
There are hints of Scott’s innate brilliance as a director here and there, most notably in the way the plague scenes are shot and edited. One image that really stuck in my mind occurred during the parting of the sea, in which we see soldiers and horses floating lifelessly in the water from the viewpoint of the seafloor. For the most part, however, Exodus feels more like a typical Michael Bay blockbuster than a Ridley Scott film.
With the exception of Aaron Paul and Ben Kingsley, who each play supporting roles in Exodus, almost every actor is completely unrecognisable due to the efforts of the hair, makeup and wardrobe departments. I love going into a film with next to no knowledge of its storyline, the creatives behind it, or other people’s opinions, as it allows me to view the film objectively without any preconceived ideas. Prior to viewing Exodus, I did not know which actors would be filling the main roles, so for the first act I kept staring at Joel Edgerton, and couldn’t stop thinking; why are you so familiar? Eventually I realised that I was looking at the face of the Aussie actor from Felony (2014) and The Great Gatsby, but honestly, it was not until his name came up on the screen in the final credits that I truly believed it was him.
Edgerton brought a ruggedness to the character, despite the fact that physically he looked quite feminine in eyeliner and sparkling jewellery, and at times he was really engaging, but then in other scenes his performance lacked credibility. I feel as though this inconsistency was apparent in all the performances, including that of Christian Bale, John Turturro, who plays Edgerton’s father, and Sigourney Weaver, who plays his mother, was the worst of all.
The most glaring weakness of the film is the convoluted script, which is far too long, and attempts to cover far too much content. The success of Gladiator stems from its well structured story, and its complex characters that are performed with excellence by Russell Crowe and Joaquin Phoenix. Many of the events throughout Gladiator are emotionally moving, and then there are other scenes that are thrilling, and some that are utterly terrifying. Exodus, on the other hand, fails to engage its audience on an emotional level, and simply sits flat on the screen as an entertaining spectacle, which is why I am giving this film 3 stars.