In the thirteenth century B.C. the Hebrew people have been enslaved by the Egyptians for around four hundred years now, but for all that long time they have been dreaming they will return to Canaan someday, though first they have to persuade their masters this is a good idea, and those cruel overlords need them to fulfil the tasks such as building their cities that the common Egyptian would not do. However, there is one man who may be able to help, though as he has been brought up as the brother to Ramses (Joel Edgerton), son of the Pharoah (John Turturro), he is entirely unaware of his destiny. This man is Moses (Christian Bale) and while he may act as royalty, he was in fact born Hebrew – but can he return to his roots?
It’s safe to say the publicity campaign for Exodus: Gods and Kings went very well indeed, and everyone was very happy with the outcome as the famous Jewish star Christian Bale was deemed born to the part of the great leader Moses, and the celebrated Egyptian actor Joel Edgerton was an ideal Pharoah, indeed the entire potential audience could see not one whit wrong with the entire concept of a Biblical epic as concocted by self-proclaimed agnostic Ridley Scott. Or, er, maybe not, as those reasons were just some of the grumbles about another Hollywood version of the old, old story which the faithful regarded as the decadent entertainment industry bastardising their sacred stories, be they Christian, Jewish or Muslim – the film was banned in Egypt among other places for its lack of accuracy.
That said, seeing as how there was no historical evidence any of the folk tales in the book of Exodus ever happened anyway, you could argue Scott and his team had the right to tell it however they wanted, but the twenty-first century was seeing a resurgence of religion in certain regions and strata of the world, and the more they believed the more offended they got when they saw something they didn’t agree with because it contradicted or misrepresented their religion. That Scott was at the helm, and was vocal about his scepticism, couldn’t have helped: he was no Cecil B. DeMille when it came to exploiting the Bible for blockbuster material, and really only had his knack with vast scale on his side when this was the subject.
Then again, if he could find some dramatic truth to the plot, then so much the better surely? The trouble with that being he appeared to be supporting mankind against a God he portrayed as a petulant child, oddly echoing Martin Scorsese’s controversial Christ movie from the nineteen-eighties when he portrayed Satan as a young girl. If more had picked up on that connection Exodus might have been even more protested, but it remained the most intriguing point of view in a film that meandered too much for an hour and a half of set up before it got to the heavy stuff as the plagues begin and Moses is, in this telling, strongarmed into backing his deity and forcing the Egyptians to reconsider their rules of keeping the Hebrews under the yoke of oppression. A reluctant Moses was a very modern take, it had to be acknowledged.
In that manner that there were few heroes around in movies who were not afflicted with doubts and flaws, so we had a Moses in such a vein, and the way this related it, he had a point when God’s actions against the Egyptians were so horrendous, in spite of how terribly they had treated their slave population, that you wonder if this Almighty was someone you actually wanted to be associated with. The plagues kicked off the last hour of the film and here was where it became interesting, with a real wrestle of faith and what it means to endorse a God who may not be as unknowable and unquestionable as the scriptures would have it, a provocative theme that nevertheless was swamped in the special effects budget. Essentially, most showing up to watch Exodus were not there for a theology lesson or debate, they wanted to see the spectacle, which they got as those effects were very impressive from an artistic point of view, Red Sea parting and all. It’s just that you feel they wanted to go further with their ideas than convention, good taste even, would allow. Music by Alberto Iglesias.
Talented, prolific British director whose background in set design and advertising always brings a stylised, visually stunning sheen to often mainstream projects. Scott made his debut in 1977 with the unusual The Duellists, but it was with his next two films - now-classic sci-fi thrillers Alien and Blade Runner - that he really made his mark. Slick fantasy Legend and excellent thriller Someone to Watch Over Me followed, while Thelma and Louise proved one of the most talked-about films of 1991. However, his subsequent movies - the mega-budget flop 1492, GI Jane and the hopeless White Squall failed to satisfy critics or find audiences.
Scott bounced back to the A-list in 2000 with the Oscar-winning epic Gladiator, and since then has had big hits with uneven Hannibal, savage war drama Black Hawk Down and his Robin Hood update. Prometheus, tentatively sold as a spin-off from Alien, created a huge buzz in 2012, then a lot of indignation. His Cormac McCarthy-penned thriller The Counselor didn't even get the buzz, flopping badly then turning cult movie. Exodus: Gods and Kings was a controversial Biblical epic, but a success at the box office, as was sci-fi survival tale The Martian. Alien Covenant was the second in his sci-fi prequel trilogy, but did not go down well with fans. Brother to the more commercial, less cerebral Tony Scott.