Film and TV

Reviews for the Easily Distracted:
Exodus: Gods and Kings

Title:Exodus: Gods And Kings

That Title Feels Like It Should Be In All Caps: VERILY YOU SPEAK THE TRUTH, MORTAL.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Two-and-a-half Chuck Hestons out of five.

Brief Plot Synopsis: When Israel was in Egypt's land/Let my people go.

Tagline: "Once brothers, now enemies."

Better Tagline: "Just like Jimmy and Billy Carter."


Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Brothers Moses (Christian Bale) and Ramses (Joel Edgerton) do everything together: rule Egypt, fight Hittites, the usual. But when Moses discovers he was actually born a poor black Child of Israel and acts accordingly, he is sent into exile. Years later, at the urging of God, he takes up arms against his former brother, now the Pharaoh, determined to free the slaves and lead them to sweet freedom (cue Michael McDonald song as Moses rides off into the sunset).

"Critical" Analysis: Ridley Scott gets a lot of credit for past achievements. And to be fair, some of them were pretty awesome: Alien and Blade Runner are straight up classics with which you will not fuck, while Thelma and Louise, Gladiator, and Black Hawk Down were all critically acclaimed. Since then (BHD was in 2001), exactly two of his subsequent eight films could even remotely be described as "good:" American Gangster and Kingdom of Heaven (directors cut only).

So expectations for E:G&M were understandably low, and also because the story of Moses leading his people out of Egypt (yeah, they were the Israelites) has already famously been given the big screen treatment. Once you go Cecil B. DeMille, why would you go back?

But even given that and ... certain other criticisms (more on those later), I didn't hate this movie. Maybe part of me likes the idea of Moses as 80s action hero (there's even a scene that's the Old Testament equivalent of Arnie suiting up in Commando), and the montage of his training the rebellious slaves in -- among other things -- mounted archery is hilarious. Not just because a Robert Tepper song wouldn't sound out of place behind it, but because they never actually square off against Ramses' army in any meaningful fashion.

And It's campy as hell. I don't know for a fact Edgerton was channeling Ard from Heavy Metal, but there's a definite perception problem when the supposedly horrific scenes of hanging Hebrew families in retaliation play like something out of Mel Brooks.

But for all that, Scott can still direct violence like nobody's business. The opening fight with the Hittites is great, and the plagues visited upon Egypt by a petulant God (he reminds you of that omnipotent brat from The Twilight Zone) are sufficiently leveled up for our easily bored generation. There's even an homage to Jaws when a hapless fisherman climbs the mast of his boat to escape the frenzied crocodiles that are turning the Nile red. With human blood. The parting of the Red Sea also delivers, though the resolution of the Moses v Ramses conflict will further test your already stretched out credibility.

And then we come to the casting. The whitewashing thing has been so beaten into the ground I'm kind of reluctant to bring it up again ... so here we go. About all you can say in Scott's defense is maybe he was thinking: "Hey, Moses and Ramses were played by white guys (Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner - 1/4 Mongolian, but whatever) in 1956, and that worked out well for everybody."

It's not nearly as applicable in modern times, but you used to be able to get away with this sort of thing if the movie in question was very good. Natalie Wood's casting as Maria in West Side Story is considered an academic footnote in the history of that great film, trying to pass of John Wayne as Genghis Khan in The Conqueror is a punch line.

Unfortunately, it's inescapable here. Just about every character with a speaking part is of Caucasian descent, while everyone else -- from the enemy Hittites to the slaves to the assassins sent by Ramses' mother to murder Moses in the desert -- are brown or black-skinned. At best, I suppose making all the principals in Exodus white and all the slaves black is unbelievably ignorant, at worst it's ... well, you know.

I mean, there's absolutely no reason for Sigourney Weaver to be playing the barely there role of Tuya, Ramses' mother, except maybe she owed Scott a favor for his not casting her in Prometheus.

This wasn't the monstrosity I was expecting, absent the cinematic facepalm of using nothing but white devils for the leads in your big Middle Eastern Biblical epic (including Aaron Paul as Joshua, bitch!). Still, that's too big a boner to ignore.

Don't act like you're not impressed.

Exodus: Gods and Kings is in theaters today. And hey, at least it's shorter than the new Hobbit movie.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar