Ben-Hur (cert. 12A)
This lavishly filmed remake of the Charlton Heston 1959 classic promises much, but ends up being a bit of a mishmash.
The story, if you’re not familiar with it, involves Jewish prince Judah Ben-Hur’s relationship wth his adopted brother Messala (Toby Kebbel), an officer in the Roman army. When a young Zealot, being reluctantly looked after by Ben-Hur’s household, tries to assassinate Pontius Pilate during an army procession, Ben-Hur (Jack Huston) takes the rap and is hauled away to become a galley slave on a Roman ship, not knowing the fate of his wife Esther (Nazanin Boniadi) and family.
After years at sea, he returns to his homeland to seek revenge, but following a climactic chariot race against (among others) his adopted brother, he finds forgiveness, redemption, reunion with his family and peace with his brother.
There’s a lot of action in this movie, and the slave ship scenes and final chariot showdown are breathless and impressive. Some of the CGI battle scenes showing Messala’s Roman army career, less so.
But the real problem for me in this film is that it feels bitty – possibly a consequence of condensing a story that previously took four hours to tell, into two. Weaving elements of the story of Jesus (played by Rodrigo Santoro) in just didn’t help the flow of the storyline, and for much of it I struggled to identify with the characters.
Morgan Freeman pops up as Ilderim, a freelance chariot team coach and horse trader who also makes his money betting on his racers' performances. Oddly he has little clue on how to keep his horses healthy, so it’s handy when Ben-Hur is washed up at his camp from the shipwreck of his galley, and proves not just a horse-whisperer who treats his horse and helps it recover, but also races chariots rather well.
The happily-ever-after ending feels rushed and all too contrived, with Ben-Hur and Messala reconciled, imprisoned mother and sister’s freedom bought by Ilderim, and everybody appearing to be following Jesus.
Yes, there are talking points about forgiveness, family loyalty, identity and the Christian message, but I’m not convinced it will win over many unbelievers. You may disagree but $100 million seems to me to be a lot of money for a film that’s really not as good as it could/should be.