Ben-Hur Film Review
When news broke that Ben-Hur was on the way to cinemas, people were understandably a little peeved. The 1959 epic starring Charlton Heston is still a landmark in cinema history – despite itself being a remake of the 1925 picture – so remaking it is seen as blasphemy. However it is important to remember that this new film is not so much a remake as another adaptation of Lew Wallace’s Ben-Hur: A Tale of The Christ (1880). So, expelling any bias and comparison, is this new take on Wallace’s story of faith and redemption worth the trip to the cinematorium? Not really….
The film concerns wronged Jewish nobleman Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston) and his once strong relationship with his adopted Roman brother Messala (Toby Kebbell). However this relationship erodes when Judah is wrongfully sent into a life of slavery, as Messala sides with his Roman brethren, however with Judah’s return to Jerusalem comes a chance to get even, on the stadium circuit of the Chariot racecourse. This take on Ben-Hur does take place during the time of Jesus Christ (portrayed here by Rodrigo Santoro) but this aspect feels rather tacked on, in a film that is more pre-occupied with the genre’s clichés of brotherly disputes and ‘ a slave out for revenge and thus inspiring the masses’.
Ben-Hur is not unwatchable but is entirely unmemorable which, to say it comes from a visually energetic and generally interesting director, comes as a bit of a disappointment. The film lacks punch and epic scope, in spite of some good sets and well-placed themes of tolerance (uncomfortably prevalent in contemporary times), and overall just feels lacking. Some of the action scenes are fine but most are messily shot, leaving some moments indecipherable thanks to the unfocused camerawork and no matter how many action scenes come and go, it does little to make this film more involving. In fact, once the credits roll, you find yourself struggling to recollect many moments of what you have just witnessed.
The performances are so-so and the characters are instantly forgettable, with Kebbell and Huston pretty much carrying the whole film and the only other cast member that is noticeable is Morgan Freeman as a Sheikh involved in the charioteering business. Hardly woeful, this film’s biggest sin is that it does precisely what we all feared it may do and that is fail to justify existing. In updating or re-adapting this story, this film does nothing to distinguish itself from a crowded genre and the studio’s lack of confidence in their picture is unshakable (see the lethargic marketing). Ben-Hur simply needn’t exist and fails to step out of the looming shadows of the source text, the biblical tale that surrounds the film and the aforementioned Heston classic.