Monday, December 22, 2014

Exodus: Gods and Kings Review

Exodus: Gods and Kings Review
There is a line that religious movies tout when they are released. I have a sneaking suspicion that many studios that make religious movies are tied to a specific church, so the acting and direction doesn't need to be fantastic, the church-goers will like it anyway. Then are the major Hollywood studios who make them because they realize how iconic the imagery is, and they are sure they will get a massive payday. In this day and age, it definitely does not feel like these movies are made for any other purpose. I gave negative reviews this year to both "Son of God" and "Heaven Is For Real" precisely because I felt they had nothing to do except chase money. Anybody can make a movie for any purpose, getting an audience to care is the real trick.
 
There have already been countless interpretations of the story of Moses that if a director really wants to revisit this material, they have to have something special planned. When it was revealed that Ridley Scott was going to take the helm for another Moses movie, I thought it was an interesting choice. When Ridley Scott reinterpreted The Crusades with "Kingdom of Heaven," it was flawlessly superb. On the flip side, when Ridley Scott reinterpreted Robin Hood, it went south fast. In fact, it seems that Ridley Scott is possibly the most inconsistent mainstream filmmaker working. Yes, he's given us gold like "Alien," "Blade Runner," "Gladiator," "Matchstick Men," "Black Hawk Down," "A Good Year," "American Gangster," "Body of Lies" and "Prometheus," is the same guy that gave us "Legend," "Black Rain," "G.I. Jane," "Hannibal," and "The Counselor." As I walked into "Exodus: Gods and Kings" tonight, I did not know what to expect.
 
First of all, as I feared, there is something off about the casting. I spoke at length months ago about how bad the "whitewashing" of roles has become. With that said, I feel Scott went completely overboard with the casting. Actors like John Turturro, Sigourney Weaver, Joel Edgerton, and even Aaron Paul appear to play roles and it all feels very much like a community theater portrayal of the story. I mean, come on, Aaron Paul is playing Joshua for crying out-loud, nothing against Paul, but that made me burst in laughter. Almost as hard as how much work was given to try to make Edgerton look like an Egyptian, too funny. Mixed this with the fact that all the costumes and set pieces look like they came from an old, 1950's style Moses movie, and you've got something that feels off quick.
 
Second of all, it seems like Ridley Scott was completely confused by the movie he trying to make. At one point, it does feel like Scott wants to make a deep, passionate re-telling of the Moses story. Then, at times he resorts back to popular scenes of ancient carnage. The problem is, the hyper-violence has no place in this movie. It's just filler so that Scott could make his epic feel more "epic." There is so much to this film that is so brutally confusing that its mind-numbing. Christian Bale is a great actor, and he's someone that I have respected and admired all my life. But he brings nothing to the table as Moses. I don't know if this was his personal interpretation, Scott's direction or the poor script-writing, but  Bale is quite boring in the role.
 
And the interpretation of God in this movie was of an 11-year-old boy. Yep, God was a child, what a cliché.
 
I think the worst sin the film commits is that it fumbles with its two big image pieces. The big draw of the Moses story to watch the ten plagues, and the parting of the Red Sea. I can say with utter confidence that Scott botched both scenes. There is no thematic or emotional pull to either scene and they both play out fairly anti-climatic. The two major set pieces of the movie are completely wasted and vanished. If you can't make those two iconic scenes work, then you should not make a movie about Moses. It's really that simple.
 
It really blows my mind when so many striking artists gather to do something completely forgetful. When I reviewed "Noah" back around March, I was nearly surprised by how drawn to it I was. I thought that when Darren Arnofsky set out to make that movie, bringing in the religious crowds wasn't necessarily on his mind. He went out of his way to make something ambitious, tremendous and memorable. It seems here that all Ridley Scott wanted to do with the Moses story was go through the motions, and that is just a waste of resources. When something like "The Prince of Egypt" has more emotional heft than a big-budget rendition of the same story, something has gone terribly wrong.
 
FINAL GRADE: D-



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