Ben-Hur (2016): Film Review

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This remake of Ben-Hur was released in the U.S. last month and received disappointing reviews and even worst returns at the box office, but that’s what happens when you touch an epic – the Oscar-winning 1959 film starring Charlton Heston – and try to remake it, when that was already a remake itself. So obviously critics were ready to be scathing, but as someone representing the new generation, who couldn’t be bothered to sit through the predecessor’s staggering 212 minute run time, this was just fine. Nothing amazing, nothing dreadful.

This time around Jack Huston plays Ben-Hur a Jewish nobleman who has a close bond with his adoptive brother Messala (Toby Kebbell), a Roman. Messala goes off to join the Roman Army and returns years later as a high-ranking officer and he asks Ben to make sure the locals let new Roman governor Pontius Pilate pass through Jerusalem without being attacked by the Zealots, or rebels. On that fateful day, somebody attempts to kill Pilate from Ben’s home, so Messala turns on his old family and Ben is enslaved on a ship for years, and plots his revenge on Messala once he escapes.

I have never rated Kebbell as an actor, I just don’t believe him at all, but I liked Huston a lot. He is charming and has this warm, captivating onscreen presence. I especially liked the scenes in the galleys where he just refused to give up. There were also strong performances from Nazanin Boniadi as his wife Esther and Rodrigo Santoro as Jesus although Morgan Freeman felt oddly cast as chariot racer Sheik Ilderim.

The film isn’t a scene-for-scene remake either. They have trimmed it down remarkably to 123 minutes (praise!), the cast has been streamlined and few minor details such as relationships and characters have been changed, while Jesus has more prominence throughout the main story. However, the main event for the movie is obviously still the same – the epic chariot race finale between brothers.

I am a big supporter of practical effects and at times I could pick out the obvious CGI during the race. Most of it was practically done, but certain shots were apparently done with effects. The creation of the amphitheatre was impressive and it is epic and filled with thousands of spectators. The race itself is pretty exciting to watch and you feel so involved due to the camera work, which makes you feel like you’re in with them. However, it’s hard to invest in this because you know how it will turn out.

This has been updated for the new generation but I don’t think people my age (mid-20s) or younger would be that bothered about seeing this because the storyline is quite old fashioned and heavy on religion. It was pleasant watching and I like Huston a lot, but the film as a whole didn’t do enough to validate why it was made.

In cinemas now 

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  1. […] means but it’s certainly not amazing enough to prove the haters wrong, much like the recent Ben-Hur remake. But it has Chris Pratt in it, so there’s […]

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