Dec 22, 2014

Exodus: Gods And Kings

Any movie where John Turturro plays a Pharaoh and Christian Bale plays Moses is worth seeing in my book. But just as it should not have taken the Jews 40 years to cross that desert, it should not have taken Ridley Scott almost three hours to tell the story of Moses and the exodus from Egypt.
But three hours it takes, and it befuddles that Scott, who is quite a visual storyteller, chooses to linger on endless chariot chases, multiple aerial views of Memphis (not Tennessee), has Jews sauntering through the desert with what seems nary a care in the world,  and Moses falling in love for forever in screen time with Zipporah (who cares?). But then he doesn't let the story alight on more interesting stuff.
Blink and you will miss the golden calf. But the most egregious omission is that he diminishes the very payoff of the story: the bequeathing of the ten commandments to the Jews. They were slaves for centuries, they are liberated by Moses with the help of some fabulous CGI plagues, courtesy of a very testy God who murders everything in sight, and, in an amazing ironic twist with a Biblical amount of chutzpah, gives them the basic tenets of civilization in writing, which include, in capital letters, Thou Shalt Not Kill. It is with these laws that they will flourish as a free nation. Alas, we are not to see this epic moment in this epic film. Instead, we see a much diminished Moses sitting inside a dumpy cart guarding the ark of the covenant as if it were lost luggage at La Guardia.
Why bury the most redeeming aspect of such a violent story? To me this is far more ridiculous than the decision to have God appear to Moses in the form of a British child. I would have much preferred the thundering voice of say, Benedict Cumberbatch coming from behind that feeble burning bush that looks like someone lit it by accident with a can of Sterno, (perhaps Reese Witherspoon wandering in from Wild - same story), but apparently Scott and his four writers move in mysterious ways.
Having a physical presence for Moses to argue with is not an uninspired choice. It may have seemed more modern to the filmmakers, but it does detract a wee bit from the majesty and mystery of an unseen, but very much felt, God.
Epic movies about anything that happened more than two centuries ago are not to be taken factually or seriously. They tend to be a hoot. Hence, it is my humble opinion that it is a waste of time to disparage the racial casting in this movie. We might also whine about 2000 years of Western art in which Jesus, the Virgin and the Apostles are always all as white as Wonder Bread. I didn't see an actual Jew playing any Jews, but I haven't heard anyone complain about this either. I agree that movies need to be more inclusive and true to reality in casting, but not necessarily when it comes to ancient times. Ancient times call for British thespians and Aaron Paul looking as if he'd rather be dead in Arizona than Joshua in this other desert dump.
Turturro nails his sadly short part with a couple of wonderful scenes with Bale, with whom he seems to have real rapport. Edgerton, who has quite a pair of Egyptian lips, is also quite good and campy as a petulant megalomaniac with daddy issues. He finds something to hold on to in his Ramses, while Bale has a harder time finding Moses as Moses tries to find himself. It's hard to be a Jew. Also, it's hard to play a hero whose transformation into a revolutionary is not very convincing. Is it because he saw the suffering of the people, because Ben Kingsley told him to, or because God finally appeared to him? I love that he argues with God, true to biblical form, but I didn't understand how Moses gained his sense of purpose. So Moses is conflicted. But his conflict seems visited on him by the rulebook of Hollywood Personal Conflicts 101, rather than by a real identity crisis. Being an Egyptian prince your entire life only to find out you are a lowly Jew has got to to mess with your head, but Scott prefers to cut (again and again) to the bigger battles.
We can discuss other strange liberties taken by this movie, such as why the very corrupt and evil character of the Viceroy (an Egyptian played by Ben Mendelsohn, probably the only Jew around), is a raging homosexual of the most insidious variety. Why does he have to be a sibilant gay? Is that in the Bible? More importantly, is anybody other than me complaining about this yet? Why bring in Sigourney Weaver to give her half a second of screen time? After three hours of some truly well crafted spectacle interrupted by unnecessary padding, I realized that the reason why this this epic story was failing is because it has been boiled down to yet another irrelevant yarn about two dudes fighting. GAWD. Guys, you got to get a hold of yourselves. This is getting tiresome. You can feel the movie balloon in preposterousness while it deflates in intelligence as this ridiculous, simplistic thread is pursued. If we're not going to have a payoff of Biblical proportions, why bother?

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