Director Timur Bekmambetov gave us the movie Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, which was not as bad as most critics said (I thought it was better than the critically praised Lincoln that came out that same year). The movie Wanted (Angelina Jolie) was. He brought one of the stars of that movie (Morgan Freeman), to play Sheik IIderim. And if you have Freeman in a movie, it’s required by law to have him narrate. Hollywood really needs to give that a rest. Also, his casting in this is a bit distracting. Sometimes actors can become so popular it takes away from the character they’re playing.
The classic Ben-Hur in 1959 won 11 Oscars, more than any movie in history. The classic chariot scene cost a supposed $4 million to film, and the stunts were amazing. Not sure why it needed to be remade, but producer Roma Downey (who specializes in faith-based films), was interested in a bit less action and more biblical dialogue. Thankfully, it’s interesting and works (Keith R. Clarke and John Ridley were the screenwriters); although the scenes with Jesus seem a bit forced.
The cast is relatively unknown. Jack Huston (Boardwalk Empire, American Hustle, and grandson of director John Huston). Huston is certainly no Heston, but he’s fine as Judah Ben-Hur. Toby Kebbell (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) plays Messala. Nazanin Boniadi (Homeland) plays Esther, and isn’t given much to do. Jesus Christ (Rodrigo Santoro) also isn’t given a lot to do, but it makes for a powerful ending (spoiler alert: he’s nailed to a cross). Ayelet Zurer, who was Superman’s mom, plays another mom here. She has some emotional scenes that are good.
Cinematographer Oliver Wood (The Brothers Grimsby and Bourne movies, to name a few) gives us a few too many close-ups, and although some of the action scenes are fun, in a few it’s hard to tell what’s going on (the 3-D is wasted). It felt like they slapped on a few GoPro cameras to add excitement. Yet since the chariot race is so much like the original and we’re so used to such elaborate stunts (with movies like Mission: Impossible, and others that utilize CGI), it just lacks a bit of drama. That being said, there’s a battle on the sea that’s brilliantly shot from the slave galley perspective.
The score works wonderfully, and really puts you in the time period.
Bekmambetov shows a bit more restraint than you would’ve expected, and the film has some nuance that is rather effective.
For those that remember the original, they might not feel this remake was necessary. For a new generation, they might be burned out on these pictures. There are so many, that even Kebbell was in one previously (Prince of Persia).
The original was 3 ½ hours long. This one is a bit shorter at 2 ½ hours.
It gets a star for each hour: 2 ½ out of 5.