ASIDE FROM A FEW THRILLS AND AN ENJOYABLE MORGAN FREEMAN PERFORMANCE, THIS REMAKE CRASHES AND BURNS IN THE COLOSSEUM!
By Nico Beland
Movie Review: ** out of 4
PARAMOUNT PICTURES AND MGM
Jack Huston as the Jewish prince who fought for redemption and revenge in a chariot race, Ben-Hur
I can sum up my full thoughts on Ben-Hur in six words, “Hachi Machi, It Stinks, Goodnight!”. The first time I ever opened a review up with a quote by fictional film critic, Jay Sherman, but it’s totally called for.
Director, Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted, 9, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter), best known for incorporating several slow motion action sequences and unique visual styles in his films attempts to re-imagine the classic story of Ben-Hur, the Jewish prince living in Roman-occupied Jerusalem, who was wrongfully accused for treason by his brother and eventually took him head on in a chariot race. The story of Ben-Hur was apparently so popular that it spawned several different film adaptations, of course we’re all aware of the 1959 Academy Award® winning film directed by William Wyler and starred Charlton Heston as the titular character, but believe it or not, that version was also a remake of a 1925 silent film, which again was a remake of another silent movie from 1907.
So this story’s been told time after time before, but each variation of the story offered something different and new with each telling of the tale. I was down to see a new take on the Ben-Hur story, it’s been remade so many times before, so how could they possibly turn it into a trainwreck? Well, replace the grand and massive cinematography and editing with very choppy and distracting editing, uninteresting characters, some hokey acting, and overly relying on CGI.
The 1959 film in my opinion is a visual marvel, the effects were amazing at the time and everything that was happening was really there, even some of the chariot race footage were made by accident, and we were all blown away. Here, they basically turned it into the same old biblical epic type of movie we’ve seen countless times before, not to mention we already had Risen, another biblical epic movie released earlier on this year, and the effects in this movie aren’t nearly as incredible as the ones from the 1959 movie.
The film follows a nobleman named Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston-American Hustle, Hail, Caesar!, Pride + Prejudice + Zombies) living in Roman-occupied Jerusalem with his wife, until he is falsely accused for treason by his childhood friend and adoptive brother, Messala (Toby Kebbell-Control, The East, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes). Ben-Hur survives years of slavery under the Romans, befriends a wealthy Nubian sheik named Sheik Ilderim (Morgan Freeman-The Shawshank Redemption, Amistad, The Dark Knight trilogy) who helps him on his quest for revenge, and seeks vengeance against Messala in a grand chariot race while being forever changed after several encounters with Jesus Christ (Rodrigo Santoro-Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, 300, The 33).
Overall, Ben-Hur is a waste of talent and a huge step backwards for director, Timur Bekmambetov, who started off great with Wanted and even produced Shane Acker’s film adaptation of 9 alongside Tim Burton, and I hate to admit it but I find a lot of enjoyment and hilarity with Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. This was probably the first time I felt tired watching a Timur Bekmambetov production and that should never be the case, the man is known for his Slow-Mo action sequences, wild visuals, and unique styles, unfortunately very little of that is showcased in Ben-Hur and it comes off as boring when the characters aren’t on a horse or a boat.
But with that said, some of the action at times can be a lot of fun, I enjoyed the battle at sea on the slave boats, and the race in general was exciting. It’s not even close to surpassing the 1959 film but I was glad they attempted to do something different with the action, despite none of it looking real.
And of course, Morgan Freeman is a joy to watch in the film, even when he’s in a bad movie, he manages to put effort in his performances. He isn’t one of my all-time favorite actors for nothing after all.
Sadly, Freeman’s acting can’t save the rest of the acting, a lot of the acting in the film is very hokey at times, more specifically through the side characters, but Freeman, Huston, and Kebbell’s performances are alright for the most part.
For a movie that had a lot of potential at first and its source material being remade several times in the past, this one felt very empty and pointless. As Sherman also said “If it’s a remake of a classic, rent the classic!”, that is the case here, go ahead and skip this but do check out any of the earlier adaptations of the story, I can assure you any adaptation you pick will do much better justice than this one.