While Christian Bale admitted that you can’t out-Heston Charlton Heston in playing the all-consuming Moses, the real question last night at Fox was if Ridley Scott can out-“Gladiator” “Gladiator” with “Exodus: Gods and Kings” (December 12). After glimpsing about a half-hour of powerful footage that left us wanting more, the answer is definitely yes (watch the new trailer below).
In fact, Fox will probably have another Best Picture Oscar contender to go along with David Fincher’s hot “Gone Girl.” Scott’s ambitious retelling of Moses as conflicted revolutionary is right up the Academy’s alley. It should score a slew of above and below the line noms, including potential nods for Dariusz Wolski’s gritty cinematography, Arthur Max’s opulent production design, Janty Yates’ authentic-looking costumes, James Harrison’s thunderous sound design, Double Negative’s incomplete yet impressive VFX, Alberto Iglesias’ as-yet-unheard score and Billy Rich’s tight editing.
The “badass” director has endured “a production nightmare,” according to producer Jenno Topping: a ridiculously tight 74-day shoot with miserable weather and bothersome animals. Yet the footage covered the gamut of dramatic moments: Bale’s Moses saving the life of Joel Edgerton’s Rhamses in battle and stealing his mojo; Ben Kingsley’s Hebrew elder confiding to Moses his true identity; the tragic rift between brothers; Moses’ mournful goodbye to his family before banishment from Egypt; and four of the 10 plagues, the best of which were very creepy frogs and locusts.
For Bale, playing Moses was so intense that for the first time in his career he wound up conveying more of himself to prevent complete exhaustion during the grueling shoot in Spain (where Sergio Leone’s famous spaghetti westerns were shot) and the Canary Islands (where the iconic crossing of the Red Sea was shot). But the Oscar winner was utterly fascinated by “the troubled, tumultuous, mercurial Moses.”
Indeed, Bale had no idea how complex Moses was so he threw himself in the study of Torah as well as the Koran and Jonathan Kirsch’s “Moses: A Life” biography. “The nature of God was equally as mercurial,” the actor adds. “He threatens to wipe out everyone but Moses and he convinces him not to… There’s no afterlife, no mention of the devil; this is the God of good and evil.
“The biggest issue [for Scott] was about how much you could include. It’s so dense. But it’s called ‘Exodus’ for a reason. It’s the story of revolution up to and through Exodus.”
However, as far as screening biblical movies to prepare for the role, Bale not only re-watched Cecil B. DeMille’s classic remake of “The Ten Commandments,” but also Monty Python’s “The Life of Brian” and Mel Brooks’ “History of the World, Part 1” to avoid being too earnest and to bring a little humor to the prep.
But there won’t be any confusing DeMille’s theatrical sense of fun and spectacle with Scott’s more somber yet realistic approach to the sword-and-sandal epic. “I kept wanting to get out of the gig,” Bale jokes. But you just “act it” even if you secretly believe you’re not up to the task. “Heston’s Moses was uplifting — ours should be someone desperately moving forward. This is straight up Moses.”
Hubris and heroism: Egyptian kings lived as Gods and were cut down to size, and a troubled soul with the biggest identity crisis of all time ascends to the highest rank of humanity to free his people from bondage. “Exodus: Gods and Kings” couldn’t be timelier.