Copyright © 2016 by Paramount Pictures
The friendship of Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston) and Messala (Toby Kebbell) is tested after Messala revisits his home in Jerusalem as a revered Roman officer. It reaches breaking point when Ben-Hur refuses to spy for his adopted brother on the Zealots who are against the oppressive Romans. In a failed assassination on Pontius Pilate’s (Pilou Asbæk) life from a young Zealot, Gestas (Moisés Arias) whom Ben-Hur is harboring, he shoulders the blame and is condemned to enslavement in a galley. After five years of slavery, the galley is wrecked in a naval attack and he journeys back to Jerusalem with Sheik Ilderim’s (Morgan Freeman) support.
“For the right price, they’ll let you do anything”. Monetary motivations aside, consenting a second remake for the 21st century feels judicious and John Ridley polishing the script restores some required faith. As terrific the Oscar juggernaut is (11 wins and stayed victorious for almost four decades until ‘Titanic’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King’ matched the record), a modern spin could rejuvenate interest.
The 1959 tale of two friends / brothers driven apart by ambition and religion fuels the rage of the wrongly accused Jew with a heartrending finale that is accompanied by impassioned music from Miklós Rózsa. Even after the umpteenth viewing, being dry-eyed is a test I repeatedly flunk gloriously. Big shoes for Timur Bekmambetov and a predominantly unknown cast to fill 57 years later.
From the math, the numbers are disheartening and the film has been dismissed by both secular and religious groups. As it turns out, it is not the calamity that many pundits prophesied before its release. In defense, this re-imagination strives a profounder insight into Ben-Hur and Messala’s relationship before all hell breaks loose. Although fleeting, it maneuvers to a lachrymose conclusion nevertheless.
The chemistry Huston and Kebbell share is adequate and both actors are laudable successors to Charlton Heston and Stephen Boyd. Now to address the elephant in the room, is the chariot race any good? A crowning glory for ‘Ben-Hur’, we are enticed ahead of Bekmambetov’s vision with a visceral, furious and raucous affair. It is a valiant bid to upstage William Wyler’s hit but CGI trickery does quell its magnitude. Bummer.
Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and disturbing images