Film Review: Exodus: Gods And Kings

When it comes to the royalty of directors capable of bringing to life epic story lines and recreating worlds, events and imagery on a scale beyond anything imaginable, then there are only a handful of names that instantly spring to mind: Steven Spielberg, Christopher Nolan, James Cameron and Ridley Scott.

And so, a few months ago when I first saw the trailers for Exodus: Gods And Kings, I was simply blown away. Here was Ridley Scott leading an amazing cast in a film of epic proportions. It appeared to be Gladiator, arguably my all time favourite film, on religious steroids. I couldn’t wait.

Allowing a few days for the post Christmas rush to the cinema to relax, I snuck off to a mid afternoon 3D screening expecting a tale weighted in religion but carried through by performance and presentation. Sadly though, the film I have just seen has fallen short of the lofty expectations I placed upon it. In fact, and I’m ashamed to say this, I was so bored and disinterested in it’s opening half that I actually dozed off. Something I have never done before.

Russell Crowe - Gladiator

My first problem with the film is that it’s just too long. And aside from a middle section full of curse and plague, it never picks up a decent pace. Everyone walks everywhere and so does the film. Even the script feels too much, using two words when one would do. And because so much of it’s opening story is portrayed through conversation and reflection, everything is dragged out far, far more than it truly needs to be. Even accounting for my moments shut eye, my mind constantly wandered, constantly lost focus and really just wished they’d stop talking and actually get on with something. Anything. But they never do.

It didn’t help, that for me, the opening seemed to parallel the basic character line of Gladiator far too closely for comfort, and for a long while I was seriously thinking I was in store for a simple retelling of its surface story just migrated to a new land. And while thankfully, the similarities die off, as they do, echoes of Last of the Mohicans roll in! But in a strange juxtaposition, plague and curse comes to save the day.

For all of the problems the first half (I’m calling it half but it’s technically the first 90 minutes), once you get through it and God appears, so to speak, the film does show signs of picking up. The pace increases, and visually the film becomes an absolute treat, a beautiful reminder of how visually stunning top of the range CGI graphics can be when enough time and money is thrown at them. Annoyingly though, as quickly as the winds sweep in they blow throw. And just as you think a corner has been turned, the pace slows again and we are returned back to the trudging slow march towards the film’s obvious and unsurprising conclusion. But that is exactly the problem. We know what’s coming and essentially how it ends before we’ve even entered the cinema. And so, everything that goes on around it, building up to it, just feels like unwanted padding.

Christian Bale & Aaron Paul - Exodus

But that wasn’t the most annoying thing for me though, that is that so many elements of the film just fall flat. The casting, while it’s very centric to Christian Bale as Moses, with a lot of leaning on to Joel Edgerton as Ramses, fails to utilize the vast array of talent in the background, especially Aaron Paul who finally, looks completely unrecognisable and free of the shackles of Breaking Bad and yet is given so little screen time it’s questionable why he bothered.

And while I appreciate that the film is based on religion, and thus will be littered and heavy with teachings, philosophical debate and enlightened ideas but at times it’s far, far too preachy, and Moses far, far too arrogant. For me, the script and the writing really came alive when it took a more psychological view, when it hints at mental illness, or the stages of grief, or even reasons beyond doubt the teachings of science. Then I found it engaging. When it tries to pass over a fable, I just became bored.

Concluded my complaint about the script and plot it serves, there are times and characters that are introduced and used as a way of lightening the mood. And this simple isn’t a a story into which they fit. Throw away lines, petrified “campness” and ill timed jokes just don’t work. I understand the cinematic reasons behind their inclusion, but they felt unnecessary and untrue to the source. You don’t need a character channelling his inner C3-PO in 1300BC.

And it’s the rigidity of the source material that leads me to my final point. Amazingly, this film just doesn’t somehow feel epic enough. Because it’s overly long, slowly paced and bogged down through pre-existing predictability, everything just feels flat. The film never manages to draw you in, it never gets you racing or moves you to the edge of your seat. It just walks you along, preaching as it goes. And I really can’t help but feel that the ideas it’d tried to bring to life, proved to be a far greater hindrance than any possible help.

To say I’m disappointed is an understatement.

5 out of 10 stars (5 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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