Exodus: Gods and Kings (12a)
Dir. Ridley Scott
Cast: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, John Turturro, Aaron Paul, Ben Mendelsohn, Maria Valverde, Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kingsley, Isaac Andrews
By Matt Adcock
“The Hebrews have been slaves to Egypt for over 400 years. They have not forgotten their homeland or their God…
…and He has not forgotten them.”
First things first. Biblical epics these days just don’t come any bigger or more epic than Ridley Scott’s full-blooded Exodus-em-up. Bringing the well-worn Old Testament Sunday school favourite of Moses and Pharaoh, the 10 plagues, the infamous crossing of the Red Sea and the creation of the Ten Commandments to the big screen in lavish style and with eye-popping special effects.
Prepared to be challenged, disturbed even, as Moses (Christian Bale) wrestles with the mind of God, shoulders the fate of an entire nation and struggles with the rivalry of his powerful stepbrother Ramses (Joel Edgerton).
Director Scott is no newcomer to the historical epic with Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven on his C.V. but with Exodus he gets to go ‘full bible’ for the first time, but this is a heart-pounding massive scale retelling.
So saddle up for violent, intense desert army battles that will make your jaw drop as chariots crash, limbs are severed and lives lost, then feel the grim oppressive slavery of the Hebrews in their bondage to Egypt. This high drama and spectacle is set against the very personal brotherly tale as Moses and Ramses clash.
God is controversially depicted as a young boy referred to as ‘Malak’ (played by 11 year old Isaac Andrews), who only begins to appear to Moses after he suffers a nasty blow to the head – so his state of mind is called into question, much like Noah in Darren Aronofsky’s movie. Sure there is a burning bush on the side too – which might appease some biblical purists but it does seem that Ridley Scott wants to keep a handy ‘it was all in his head’ get out clause in case anyone claim that he’s actually found God for himself.
Malak acts in a petulant and unpredictable manner – which is in keeping with some people’s take on the Lord of the Old Testament’s jealous, vengeful nature. But He is the God who works through miraculous plagues to deliver His people – who are led by a council of elders that includes Nun (Ben Kingsley).
Bale often employs his Batman persona to bring out Moses’ inner freedom fighter – the obligatory training montage of his guerrilla army feels old school, but does help prevent the film lagging too much and the plot cracks along from one stunning set piece to the next.
Moses finds his love interest in shepherdess wife Zipporah (Maria Valverde) who is instrumental in helping him find the God of the Hebrews. Other characters on hand (but under used) include Aaron (Andrew Barclay Tarbet), who is mostly just there to back up whatever Moses says and Joshua (Aaron Paul) who doesn’t get a single memorable moment.
It’s the plagues though that steal the show and for the first few at least the Egyptian advisors manage to explain semi-scientifically: the Nile ‘turns to blood’ when it is stirred up by a host of flesh hungry crocodiles, the water being bad means the frogs leave the river, they die and rot creating thousands of flies who bite leaving boils… The freak weather hailstones is harder to explain and as for the darkness / Passover angel of death – there just aren’t answers. God’s wrath is certainly writ large and the pain caused on the hardhearted Ramses is tangible.
Overall Exodus: Gods and Kings is a staggering film, full of which deserves to be seen on the biggest screen you can find.
At one point God challenges Moses saying: “You don’t always agree with me?” and he responds by saying that he wants no part in endorsing the further plagues but God continues to amp up the destruction anyway. It is fascinating to be reminded that God wants to dialogue with man, even if we are conflicted in our responses to Him. Filmmaker Scott, who is a self-professed agnostic, has managed to create a film that will cause many people to think again about God. And potentially challenge us all to look more deeply into the story of Moses and the Exodus.
If you’re interested in getting some free resources about the film – you should check: http://www.damaris.org.uk/exodus where the cool team at Damaris have created various media, notes and tools that you can access.
4 out of 5 stars
Related Films: NOAH, The Ten Commandments, Prince of Egypt