HOLLYWOOD—Hollywood is known for indulging in all things remakes, reboots or re-interpretations of classics. Unfortunately, their latest outing to reinvent the 1959 classic “Ben-Hur” which won a total of 11 Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor for Charleston Heston, fails to bring new life to a classic.
This latest reboot helmed by director Timur Bekmambetov and with a screenplay adapted by Keith Clarke and “12 Years a Slave” writer John Ridley feels like a jumbled mess that has trouble getting on course. Most may be knowledgeable about the primary players in the saga, but for those in the dark, the movie follows Jewish nobleman, Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Houston) who finds himself betrayed by his adoptive Roman brother Messala (Toby Kebbell) who places his brother into a life of slavery.
The family dynamic could be argued as the motive for Messala’s motive, but how many times have we seen this theme played out in cinema. It’s quite tired and not as original as one expects, especially a film of this magnitude. Kebbell, who many might remember from the horrid “Fantastic Four” 2015 reboot, has the potential to showcase his villainous chops yet again, but the narrative doesn’t really give him the opportunity to display that, which is such a disappointment.
If we’re speaking on a visual front, Bekmambetov finds a way to craft Jerusalem in a way that is so inviting, however, that alone cannot save this film which doesn’t go much further beyond trying to present a spectacle of a battle for moviegoers that falls short in my opinion. We get a glimpse of Jesus portrayed by Rodrigo Santoro, notably remember for his performance in “300.”
His role in this movie unfortunately does little for the narrative. While it attempts to capture subtle moments of Jesus’ final moments, it can’t compare to what Mel Gibson and Jim Caviezel crafted in the absolutely phenomenal “The Passion of the Christ.” At times, I got the slightest sense this movie was hoping to capture a bit of that magic, while delivering an action-inspired movie.
Also frustrating is the waste of talent from Academy Award winner Morgan Freeman who portrays Sheik Ilderim, who rescues Ben-Hur giving him the opportunity to become a chariot racer. Watching the film, I completely felt Freeman was miscast and out of place, just hoping to sink his teeth on material, any material that would allow the actor’s talent to truly be displayed. If you’re looking for Oscar-caliber acting, “Ben-Hur” fails to satisfy that craving for spectators.
The climatic chariot race is entertaining, but if I’m being honest I was expecting more. I mean, the 1959 version of “Ben-Hur” had a chariot race that was epic, and that’s when technology was nowhere near the feats that we are today. I mean the visuals are entertaining, but it should be grander for a movie on this scale right? Right, but we don’t get the benefits of seeing that transpire. “Ben-Hur” had the potential to be an epic movie, introducing a new generation to a classic, but with a lackluster script and a direction that never fully takes off; I can see why the numbers didn’t explode at the box-office.