Release Date: August 19, 2016
Directors: Timur Bekmambetov
Writer: Lew Wallace, Keith R. Clarke
Cast: Jack Huston, Toby Kebbell, Rodrigo Santoro, Nazanin Boniadi, Ayelet Zurer, Pilou Asbaek, Sofia Black-D’Elia, Morgan Freeman, Marwan Kenzari, Moises Arias, James Cosmo, Haluk Bilginer, David Walmsley, Yasen Atour, Francesco Scianna, Gabriel Lo Giudice, Denise Tantucci, Jarreth J. Merz, Iaon Gunn, Dato Bakhtadze, Yorgos Karamihos
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 124 minutes
Production Company: LightWorkers Media, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), Paramount Pictures, Sean Daniel Company
Genre: Adventure, Drama, History
Budget: $100,000,000 (estimated)
Ben-Hur is a classic story that dates back far enough for most to remember. There was a short film released in 1907, and the next attempt was directed by Fred Niblo in 1925. The most notable remake of the film was William Wyler’s 1959 adaptation starring Charlton Heston. Having not seen that film, over the years I repeatedly heard countless film fans rave about its greatness. Though that was decades ago, and as we all know film technology has advanced significantly. So director Timur Bekmambetow (Wanted) decided to be at the helm of this to see if he could bring this material back to life. He’s a fascinating visual director, and his stories never take themselves too seriously. So with such an important tale (to some) as Ben-Hur, he’s an interesting choice to be behind this source material.
A brother’s love is a brother’s love, and it’s strong between our two leads Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston), and Messala Severus (Toby Kebbell). There’s an unspeakable innocence between the two as they play like children in the fields with their horses. It almost feels like a fantasy for how well they get along together living their day to day lives. Judah is one of those you can never get upset with, for he’s always calm, searching for peace, and is always looking at both sides. As the story progresses, you see that innocence is deteriorating from Messala as his character develops more and more. Whether it’s Kebbel’s facial structure, or great acting, you can see every ounce of pain, regret, and jealously that pours from his body. And when tensions arise he’s the scary antagonist, as he should be, and you yourself want to jump into the screen to seek justice from all his wrong doings. This is what a film is supposed to do (in my humble opinion), by making you feel you are or want to be a part of the story. Ilderim (Morgan Freeman) was a decent character too. He had a strong presence and demanded respect. His wardrobe was a distraction, especially with his hair. That has to be the worst wig I’ve ever seen in a Hollywood production. It was embarrassingly horrific to say the least.
What makes the film great is the passion behind all the characters. Whether they’re right or wrong, they all show tones of emotion for what they believe in. It’s interesting to see, because, as history tells you, of all the conflicts in the past suggesting who’s good or evil, most men and women aren’t what you may think they’d be and are just following orders. As we live our lives today, some have no control over their own lives and are dishing out demands from those on high. Being a biblical story, it speaks volumes, and it is displayed throughout the film. What is it that turns a man’s heart so black and his soul so dark? Jealousy and insecurities are one of the roots to such mayhem. Toby Kebbel’s performance brought this to the forefront, engaging you even more to see Judah receive the justice that he deserves.
Though while all the characters were great towards the beginning of the film, it’s hard to take the surroundings seriously. The budget for the film was 100 million dollars, but at times feels like only 1 million. There was an improvement towards the end with the chariot races. However, prior to that, during a flashback scene, when warriors were fighting up a mountain, and even when characters were just conversing over the next plan of action, it didn’t feel real. It felt like an expensive soap-opera. Something was missing that was necessary to bring it all together. It wasn’t a huge departure from what’s needed for a good film, but it would have been better if this large detail was given more attention.
Ben-Hur can speak to you on so many levels about love, pain, and forgiveness. The message is powerful, and I’ll say again shows the power of love. While being entertaining, the studio’s decision for director seems like a misfire. It’s not like Timur Bekmambetov is a horrible director,because he’s not. His style and vision just wasn’t the right one for this type of production. He still did a decent job, but I wanted more than decent. Overall, what really matters is the story he brought to the screen. It’s a great one with strong characters to tell it, and it is a great reminder about the power of God and His will.