Ben-Hur Goes To The Races and Loses, A Review

21 Aug

BenHurPosterBy Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)

I would rather watch Les Misérables again than try to suffer through the 2016 remake of Ben-Hur by Night Watch‘s director Timur Bekmambetov. What went wrong? For one thing, Hollywood really must stop with remaking classics under the thought a story will look better with improved special effects. Some classics are best left untouched. Movies with loose Biblical connections seem cursed; it’s like the Devil is doing his job too well to get the masses to turn away from these type of films.

John Ridley is one of the co-writers of this movie. He’s best known for 12 Years a Slave, and the name should be familiar enough to those who know his work from the mid 90’s with The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and The John Larroquette Show. Mind you, with those films, there’s star power at the lead to really help carry those two fantastic shows. When Jack Huston is pegged to star as one of the major leads, not everyone will be familiar enough with his resume. He played Pete Musane in American Hustle and I recall seeing him in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. This latest film will not elevate him by any means, although I would love to see him and James McAvoy appear together in any future project. They share a similar type of acting style.

When Judah Ben-Hur (Huston) comes to odds with his adoptive brother Messala (Toby Kebbell) because of the Roman occupation of Jerusalem, just who these two are inside is turned upside-down. Add his random encounters with a certain carpenter turned Messiah, Jesus Christ, I had to wonder just exactly what this movie is really preaching. The added emphasis of this character was distracting. As for going through the motions to strengthen Ben-Hur’s resolve, the first two acts were a slog to get through. I was more excited for the big climax when these two are facing off against each other in a gladorial death-match race around the Circus, the name of the stadium where this sport aims to honour each civilization’s glory.

Perhaps, if Ben-Hur was turned into a musical, I might have been able to pay more attention. There was more energy to the huge sequence at the end than the rest of the film, and the big reason is that the action is in your face. The stakes are clearly defined for these two brothers who became bitter rivals. In how it ends, sometimes all you can do is decide whether its worth spending a day at the races. The odds for this film making back its budget is slim, if not next to none.

At least for Morgan Freeman, who plays the Nubian sheik who mentors Ben-Hur, I had to chuckle since he’s the narrator who talks about the Story of God. If given a second choice, I would rather watch this documentary series over this film.

One chariot left

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