Director Ridley Scott’s borderline-lunatic, bold, gargantuan and visually stunning epic “Exodus: Gods and Kings” is one of the most unforgettable movies of the year, and I never want to see it again.
I can explain.
Some movies, while superior works, just don’t have that high “repeatability” factor. Who wants to see “Cries and Whispers” or “Sophie’s Choice” or “Saving Private Ryan” or “Schindler’s List” multiple times?
I know that sentiment would have some film scholars reeling, but you know what I mean. You can watch your favorite comedy — or even dramas such as “The Godfather” or “Goodfellas” or “The Shawshank Redemption” — a dozen times. Not so much with “Requiem For a Dream.”
“Exodus: Gods and Kings” is not a movie you want to see twice, unless you’re a glutton for watching punishment.
Ridley Scott does for Moses what Darren Aronofsky did for Noah — and then triples the stakes. This is a $200 million action movie, in some ways more reminiscent of Scott’s “Gladiator” than Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 VistaVision classic “The Ten Commandments.”
We’ve got Christian Bale as an intense, sword-wielding, tormented Moses; John Turturro as the pharaoh Seti, and Sigourney Weaver as Tuya, who raised Moses like a son; Joel Edgerton as Ramses, who succeeded Seti, exiled Moses and eventually became Moses’ blood enemy, and Aaron Paul from “Breaking Bad” as Joshua, the Robin to Moses’ Batman.
We also get hundreds of thousands of expertly computer-generated Hebrew slaves; astonishing scenes of the Plagues of Egypt, from diseased livestock to locusts to boils to frogs to brutal thunderstorms to the death of every firstborn son; bloody battles in which Moses wields his special sword as if it’s a legacy weapon worthy of a Marvel Universe character …
And have I mentioned that instead of portraying God as a a voice emanating from behind a fire, Scott has physicalized the deity as a boy who speaks with a British accent and is almost always in a bad mood?
As was the case with “Noah” and is the case with any attempt to interpret the Old Testament (or for that matter the life and times of Jesus Christ), a filmmaker is taking a great risk. When you make literal these beautiful, sparse, sometimes frightening, sometimes awe-inspiring written passages, you’re putting modern-day visuals on some of the greatest stories ever told — and you’re putting your stamp on something billions hold sacred.
“Exodus: Gods and Kings” opens with Bale’s Moses and Edgerton’s Ramses as grown men, as close as brothers can be without sharing the same bloodline. Even as they have each other’s backs in battle, we already see shades of Ramses’ narcissism (nice eyeliner) and his resentment of Moses, who is a superior war general and is clearly Seti’s favorite. Once Seti is out of the picture, Ramses pounces on the rumor (which of course turns out to be true) that Moses is in fact Hebrew. He doesn’t have the heart to kill Moses, so he banishes him from the kingdom, fully believing Moses will soon be dead.
Hardly a spoiler alert to say that’s not exactly how things play out.
Filmed on location in the Canary Islands, in Spain and at the legendary Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire, England, “Exodus: Gods and Kings” never misses an opportunity for a sweeping overhead shot in which Dariusz Wolski’s camera flies over Seti’s kingdom, the battle for Kadesh and Ramses furiously pursuing Moses against the backdrop of the parting of the Red Sea. It’s thrilling filmmaking.
Not to mention all those plagues, which we see illustrated in excruciatingly vivid fashion. It’s amazing stuff. You know it’s impossible to wrangle 10,000 frogs for a plague scene, or create an actual 200-foot wave, or hire 500,000-plus extras, but the special effects are so good it’s difficult to imagine the scenes having any more resonance even if such feats were attainable.
Bale’s Moses is equal parts family man, reluctant hero, visionary, warrior and prophet. He humanizes one of the most iconic figures of all time. Here is a man who grew up believing he was an Egyptian, who came to embrace his true destiny and who found himself taking dictation from a burning bush (or in Ridley Scott’s eyes, God as a kid).
Weeks before reaching theaters, “Exodus: Gods and Kings” was maybe the most controversial movie of the year. Bale said he thinks Moses “was likely schizophrenic and was one of the most barbaric individuals that I have ever read about in my life.”
Scott has been criticized for casting white actors in the leads, while non-whites portray slaves and servants. His explanation — essentially, you’re not going to get a $200 million movie made without casting recognizable actors — hardly doused the flames, even though it’s the tough-to-swallow truth.
And then there’s the matter of an 11-year-old British actor playing Moses’ vision of God.
Whether you believe Moses is a fairy tale character or he walked the same Earth we inhabit today, yes, it’s pretty likely he didn’t look and sound like the Dark Knight in sandals. Since the dawn of movies, there have been legit concerns about ethnicity and casting. I hear the voices of protest about this film, and I understand their concerns.
But as a fictional, big-budget, 3-D, epic interpretation of Moses’ journey, “Exodus: Gods and Kings” is spectacular.
20th Century Fox presents a film directed by Ridley Scott and written by Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, Jeffrey Caine and Steven Zaillian. Running time: 142 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for violence including battle sequences and intense images). Opens Friday at local theaters.