Ben-Hur: The Remake Nobody Wanted
Jack HustonMorgan Freeman...
Action & AdventureDrama...
With its 1959 adaptation starring Charlton Heston having won a whopping eleven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, the 2016 revision of Lew Wallace’s 1880 novel, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, was always fighting an uphill battle. Unfortunately, thinly-sketched characters and shaky cinematography undermine director Timur Bekmambetov’s attempts to bring the ambitious script to life.
The Biblical soap opera about forgiveness and redemption follows many of the same beats as the 1959 version, focusing on the relationship between the title character – a Jewish nobleman – and his adoptive brother and Roman soldier, Messala (Kebbell). Amidst the beginnings of an uprising in Jerusalem against the ruling Romans, an assassination attempt on Roman governor Pontus Pilate puts the two friends on opposing sides of the battle and Ben-Hur into slavery.
Though the relationship between Ben-Hur and Messala is the soul of the plot, there’s very little time spent on developing the characters; even the first part of the film, which should establish the bond between the two, is rushed, while the Christian elements of the tale – which weren’t really explored in the 1959 version – feel forced, especially when Jesus, played by Rodrigo Santoro, shows up.
The performances are equally disappointing, with Huston turning out to be a bland choice for the lead; in fact, Kebbell steals the show, delivering a deliciously evil performance. On the technical level, the famous chariot scene has its moments, but choppy editing, unnecessary close-ups and poor CGI take the shine off of a scene, and film, that really didn’t need to be retold.