Accusations of racism over the casting of this blockbuster are the least of its many epic problems. But at least the plagues are good
Ridley Scott’s digitally sweeping biblical epic made headlines earlier this year when the director was charged with racism for casting white western actors in the lead roles of what is a Middle Eastern/north African story. Scott responded by declaring that this was a matter of economic necessity, insisting that he couldn’t have got the movie financed if it starred “Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such”, a comment that merely seemed to confirm rather than confound the accusations of his critics.
While arguments about whitewashing continue to rage, Exodus arrives on screen with more than enough dramatic shortcomings to overshadow its problematic racial politics. First, there’s the age-old campery that has long bedevilled biblical epics, the internecine squabbling between Christian Bale’s Moses and Joel Edgerton’s Ramses played out as a costume drama with the emphasis on the costumes – Moses opting to model manly dark hues while Ramses goes for the full white-and-gold 70s disco bling. Next comes the casting of God as a slightly petulant English public school boy – a daring move, perhaps, but also one that courts ridicule.
And, of course, there’s the inevitable equation of heft with length, the “seriousness” of the story being trumpeted more by its running time rather than any narrative depth. Yes, there is spectacle, although the initially promising parting of the Red Sea is almost drowned by waves of climactic silliness. In the end, the film’s strongest suit is its evocation of plagues, with frogs, flies and locusts descending in awe-inspiring fashion. Those sequences gave me goosebumps; other elements were more of a headache. Overall, Noah was madder – and all the better for it.
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