Epic Over Heart: Ridley Scott's "Exodus"
Ridley Scott's “Exodus: Gods and Kings” sets out to tell the beloved, well known, and miracle-filled story of Moses and the children of Israel, but from a more nuanced, grounded, and historical context. Scott tries to tell this story as an actual historical event rather than just a Bible story, and this becomes the movie's greatest strength and greatest flaw. Technically, this movie soars. “Exodus” is a project that Scott has championed for years, and it shows in the details of every costume, prop, and set design. Every frame has enough grit and sand to put the audience right in ancient Egypt, and the shot composition of his Director of Photography, DariuszWolski, helps to elevate that feeling even further. Moses walking through the slave camps, Ramses and his calvary dashing away from a collapsing Red Sea, and the massive armies of Egypt, all remained vividly alive well after the film was over. The balance of practical and special effects, and the smallest attention to detail show that Scott put true effort into this film.
But unfortunately, those good intentions get lost in the actual story. Chrisitian Bale gives a great performance as Moses, and does a fantastic job of giving this larger than life character an emotional anchor and humanity. Joel Edgerton shines as Ramses, and always holds full attention when he’s on screen. However, it’s hard to feel a brotherly connection between the two, and not much else can be said about any other character in the film. While the story is mainly between these two brothers, the supporting cast seems pretty much invisible, not given much to do. Aaron Paul plays Joshua, Moses's apprentice, and has maybe 20 minutes of screen time in a 2 1/2 hour movie.
The grounded approach works in that the story has a more natural chain of events rather than a Sunday school oversimplification. These characters are portrayed as real people who make mistakes like the rest of us. But this is a story known for its fantastic elements, and grounding it too much (making the miracles just out of control natural disasters) may defeat the purpose. Overall the story of Moses is one of redemption, hope, and freedom, but “Exodus” never gets that across and instead makes the story seem like a trudge through a morally grey fog, with every victory downplayed and coupled with more dread and gloom. This even emphasized with the coloring of the film; everything has a dark tint.
This story is meant to leave people feeling hopeful and encouraged as Moses leads his people to the promise land. Instead, the film feels rather lethargic, and we’re not really sure who to root for as a disgruntled and violent Moses half-willingly leads his people to....somewhere. Even the Bible is now victim to the "dark and gritty" movement. Ridley approached this film with the intention to make something great, but in the process he may have put epic action and grand scale over heart and emotion.