“Follow me and you will be free. Stay and you will perish.”
Ridley Scott is always a director to look forward to when it comes to films. I know he has had his series of misses as of late, but with films like Alien and Blade Runner under his belt, you know his next film could become a classic. Alien is one of my favorite sci-fi films of all time and I even enjoyed Scott’s recent prequel, Prometheus, more than most audiences did. Exodus isn’t the first time Scott has tried to make an epic film because it is similar in scope to what he did with Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven, and Robin Hood. Unfortunately, Exodus is the weakest of the four in my opinion. Scott has also experimented with different genres and last year’s The Counselor was proof of that. He’s even made some smaller films which I really enjoyed such as Matchstick Men which I was a huge fan of. I appreciate these smaller scale films more than when he tries to make these grandiose and epic ones. My major issue with this film revolves around the pacing because it felt so long and dull for most parts. It was as if Scott was aiming to direct an ambitious epic film and was trying to make it so grand that he got lost with the production and visuals of it and left out the actual narrative. There are several things I’d like to get out of the way before I actually review this film. First of all, if you are expecting a faithful adaptation to the Biblical story then Exodus isn’t a movie for you because Scott and the screenwriters took several liberties of their own (especially in the way Moses interacted with God and the Pharaoh). This is the second big budget film based on the Old Testament to come out last year, after Aronofsky directed Noah, which both took liberties from the original source material but in my opinion at least Aronofsky did something fresh and unique with the material, while Scott never manages to do so. Second, I don’t understand why we complaint so much about the casting of white actors and forget about the fact that the characters are all speaking in English. What is the point of casting all Egyptian and Hebrew actors and have them speak in English? At least Scott went all in and just cast famous actors without considering anything else.
It took me a while to get over the silliness of the opening sequences. On the one hand, Scott made a huge effort of recreating the Egyptian empire with huge production sets, but on the other the familiar faces of the actors kind of took me out of the film. Having John Turturro playing the Pharaoh and Sigourney Weaver his wife was difficult to visualize. I think Joel Edgerton is a great actor, but he wasn’t the right man for the role of Ramses. Christian Bale delivers as Moses and Ben Mendelssohn has the most campy scenes in the film but I think they helped to break the tedious tone of the film. Aaron Paul and Ben Kingsley are inexplicably underused. Despite the nice visuals (I don’t think they were groundbreaking), the story was poorly written and that is perhaps why some of these incredible actors didn’t have much to work with. There are some moments in the film where Moses is given some humanity, but whatever depth they tried to give the characters got lost in the visuals and the narrative. We know the story and have seen it played out several times in films before, so that is perhaps why I found some of the engaging scenes rather tedious because Scott doesn’t really do anything unique with the material. By the time the plagues take place we really don’t care for the characters and aren’t emotionally invested in them either. Yes, the scenes look great but there is nothing more there. I also expected a lot more from the parting of the Red Sea, but it simply was a forgettable scene. The only moment I felt some sort of emotion toward this dull film was with the dedication to his brother Tony during the end credits, but the film didn’t actually do anything for me. I was more emotionally engaged with the animated film The Prince of Egypt than I was with this. Skip the movie, read Exodus instead.