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REVIEW: Ben-Hur

Review, Theatrical, This Week 2 Comments

With a brief prologue that explains how adopted brothers become deadly rivals, Ben-Hur begins with a tease of the notorious chariot race that forms the film’s exciting climax, and then melts into a tedious flashback that laboriously explains the preceding events. It’s a 95-minute slog before we return to the thrilling horse-drawn contest, and somehow those seven minutes of pure excitement just don’t feel like enough of a payoff.

Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston) is a Jewish prince living a life of privilege with his family in Roman-occupied Jerusalem. After he is falsely accused of treason, he is sentenced to a life of slavery, enduring five years in the galley of a Roman slave ship until his escape during a sea battle. Meanwhile, his adopted brother, Messala (Toby Kebbell), ascends the ranks as an officer in the Roman army. The pair eventually face off during the grand chariot race spectacle.

Jack Huston and Morgan Freeman in Ben-Hur

Jack Huston and Morgan Freeman in Ben-Hur

A handsome carpenter with a sexy Brazilian accent pops up from time to time spouting revolutionary ideas such as, “God is love” and promising, “He has a path planned for you.” Rodrigo Santoro is suitably charismatic as Jesus, especially in his shaping of the destiny of Ben-Hur. Sporting grey “Predator-style” dreadlocks, Morgan Freeman is also good as the wise Sheik Ilderim, but the gambling deal that he presents to Pontius Pilate (Pilou Asbæk), the governor who oversees the chariot race, is pure nonsense.

Russian filmmaker, Timur Bekmambetov, directs, but all his idiosyncratic appeal (seen in Night Watch and Wanted) seems to have been worn away by the producing team of Roma Downey and Mark Burnett (The Bible), rendering his film the cinematic equivalent of a bland, smooth pebble. Despite being heavily reliant on CGI special effects, plus random felled-driver point-of-view shots, the chariot race is chock full of thrills and spills. The gruesome pileups and ferocious battle makes for welcome drama. Post-race, the story shifts into an accelerated version of the tale of Christ, from his arrest at The Garden Of Gethsemane to his crucifixion. A handful of miracles bring the story to a close

A complete snore-fest and, thanks to its generic approach, utterly lacking in heart, this fifth film adaptation of the 1880 novel, Ben-Hur: A Tale Of The Christ, by Lew Wallace, feels entirely pointless for a 21st century age.