Arts Review, Movies
Timur Bekmambetov, dir.
Keith Clarke & John Ridley, script based on the novel by Lew Wallace
Starring: Jack Huston (Judah Ben-Hur), Tony Kebbel (Messala), Morgan Freeman (Sheik Ilderim), Rodrigo Santoro (Jesus), Nazanin Boniadi (Esther), Sofia Black D’Elia (Tirzah), Ayelet Zurer (Naomi)
I took my daughter to see Ben Hur. Rachael and I love going to movies together and she’s just recently returned from two years in England. But Rachael is a way tougher critic than me.
When we got out of the screening of Ben Hur, Rachael’s first comment was, “They couldn’t even get the chariot race right.” And it’s true. The 1959 Ben Hur will forever be acclaimed for the race with its masterful cutting and clear, linear action direction. In the new version, the effect is chaotic, which would be fine if a sense of spectacular anarchy was being played out in the scene. Instead, everything feels confusing until the last couple of minutes when all the chariots have been eliminated save two: the one being ridden by Judah Ben-Hur and the other by his boyhood friend-turned-enemy Messala. But even in what should be a fatal confrontation, there is no sense of personal drama between the two. Suffice it to say, no one will be comparing the 2016 Ben Hur race to anything brilliant in the future.
Despite having a $100 million dollar budget, the film seems cheap and cheesy. Everything feels like it was made with CGI including most of the main characters except for Jack Huston, who does a creditable job as Ben-Hur and the inimitable Morgan Freeman, who does his best as Sheik Ilderim. But Tony Kebbel’s Messala, Rodrigo Santoro’s Jesus and Nazanin Boniadi’s Esther might as well have been played by Pokemon Go characters.
Rachael actually burst out laughing at the end of the film, with its absurd happy ending played over a pop song espousing love and good feelings.
This is such a misbegotten enterprise you have to wonder why the new Ben Hur was ever made. One thing is for sure: in retrospect, Charlton Heston actually looks like the Shakespearean actor he wanted to be in his version of Ben Hur.
Written by Marc Glassman
Adjunct Professor, Ryerson University
Director, Pages UnBound: the festival and series
Editor, POV Magazine
Editor, Montage Magazine
Film Critic, The New Classical FM
Film programmer, Planet in Focus
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