Kin to the future Pharaoh and enjoying a life of luxury, Moses (Bale) is rather shocked to discover he’s actually a member of the Hebrew people ‘his’ family have kept in slavery for 400 years. And that God wants him to lead them to freedom...
The Bible shows us God can talk through killing or through allowing his son to be killed. It’s the weird, confusing and sometimes wonderful contrast between the Old and New Testaments. The achievement of Ridley Scott’s take on the most famous story of exile, imprisonment and escape is not that it solves that apparent contradiction – that would be a miracle – but that it lives in it. This is a film that poses more questions than it answers. Where does faith become fanaticism? When does freedom fighting become terrorism? Why does God work through people, or people pretend to be Gods? All that, and shit gets blown up. Well, okay, not quite: people are devoured, sliced and starved in wide-screen spectacle. Oh and, yes – spoiler alert, if you didn’t pay attention in Sunday School – children are killed in their sleep.
Scott has DeMillions to mount the ten plagues and eclipses Cecil’s Ten Commandments with aplomb and invention. The script by Adam Cooper & Bill Collage, Jeffrey Caine and Steven Zaillian brightly attempts to rationalise the horrors that befall the Egyptian people, before leading us along with Moses to realise the answer may be in how God identifies himself: “I Am”.
If you ignore the scale, splendour and slaughter – for a moment – then the biblical pic this bears most comparison to is not those afternoon-long ’50s costume parties, but The Last Temptation Of Christ. Like Scorsese’s heartfelt, fascinating film – too readily dismissed by some Christians as heretical – Exodus: Gods And Kings has a lead who’s not sure if he’s the messiah or just a very naughty boy. Is he mad or bad or from God? Bale, here, is perfect casting, at war with himself as much as he is with Egypt. You feel that tension throughout his performance and throughout the film. It’s a Bible epic that isn’t sure that God exists, and isn’t sure he’s benevolent. But it is also a film that wants, in its heart, to believe.
As spectacular and surprising as you would expect from Scott. Its spiritual uncertainty – and lack of triumphalism – perhaps robs it of a truly satisfying, cathartic conclusion, but also makes for a truly modern, thoughtful biblical blockbuster.