Exodus: Gods and Kings
In one key scene of Exodus: Gods and Kings, Ramses (Joel Edgerton) addresses exiled foster brother Moses’ (Christian Bale) suggestion to free the Hebrew slaves of 400 years service with one memorable line: “Just from an economic standpoint, what you’re suggesting is problematic to say the least.”
Anyone especially critical of the production history behind Ridley Scott’s latest might be inclined to read this dialogue as a meta defence of the film’s virtual absence of anyone in a major role who could plausibly have been an Egypt resident circa 1300 BCE. Bar a couple of Middle Eastern actresses in supporting roles, the cast is largely comprised of British, Australian, Spanish and American thespians, all bronzed up (except for Sigourney Weaver, white as a sheet and given a completely thankless role by her former Alien director).
The casting approach is in line with the Charlton Heston-heavy biblical epics the film is a partial throwback to, but when a significant chunk of Exodus also aims for a more contemporary revision of those earlier tropes (e.g. Moses regularly disapproves of God’s actions and only fully embraces his heritage at the very end), the decision seems even more unfortunate. Still, few of the actors Scott has here do a bad job, except for Aaron Paul as Joshua, who’s desperately trying to turn a near-perpetual series of mute reaction shots (mostly from lurking in bushes or caves) into an actual character.
It’s in the spectacle elements that Scott’s film thrives, and of his recent big-budget mediocrities, Exodus is probably the best. In particular the execution of the various plagues has a far more potent, unsettling horror atmosphere than the director managed with his return to the Alien franchise in Prometheus. Though a misguided blockbuster in many ways, Exodus is a breezy enough epic to warrant a look for fans of what the wildly inconsistent Scott is sporadically best at these days.