Ben-Hur (12A)



Action (2016)
123mins US

Starring: Nazanin Boniadi, Pilou Asbaek, Rodrigo Santoro, Jack Huston, Toby Kebbell
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Writer(s): Keith R Clarke, John Ridley
Listings: London | Rest of UK and Ireland

Messala Severus is adopted by the family of his childhood friend, Judah Ben-Hur. Despite their different backgrounds, Messala is a Roman and Ben-Hur is a Jewish nobleman, the two men remain close but Messala always feels slightly removed from his adoptive mother, Naomi. In order to find his place in the world, Messala enlists in the Roman army and pledges his allegiance to the new Roman governor Pontius Pilate. Meanwhile, Ben-Hur wrestles with his feelings for a slave girl.

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LondonNet Film Review
Ben-Hur (12A)

Kazakh-Russian director Timur Bekmambetov's muscular remake of the historical epic, based on the novel Ben-Hur: A Tale Of The Christ, has big sandals to fill. A 1925 silent version starring Ramon Novarro was one of the most expensive films of the era and garnered effusive critical praise. William Wyler's 1959 reimagining, shot in lustrous CinemaScope with Charlton Heston as the eponymous slave, commanded another gargantuan budget. Critics fumbled for superlatives and the film received a record 11 Academy Awards including Best Picture and Director - an achievement equalled when James Cameron captained Titanic and Peter Jackson navigated the Lord Of The Rings trilogy...

Ben-Hur. Copyright: 2016 Paramount Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. Caption: Toby Kebbell plays Messala Severus and Jack Huston plays Judah Ben-Hur, directed by Luke Scott. Photo: Philippe Antonello. All Rights Reserved.Bekmambetov's rendition won't be nominated for an Oscar, let alone win a coveted golden statuette - not even for the slick digital effects in the climatic chariot race. This Ben-Hur isn't a sermon of rollicking entertainment to the secular multiplex masses. Scriptwriters Keith Clarke and John Ridley hark back to the source novel and emphasise the religious elements, expanding the presence of Jesus (Rodrigo Santoro) in the title character's odyssey of forgiveness. A silky smooth narration courtesy of Morgan Freeman introduces Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston), whose influential Jewish family adopts Roman best friend Messala Severus (Toby Kebbell). The two men are as fiercely competitive and loyal as blood brothers, but Messala always feels slightly distant from his adoptive mother, Naomi (Ayelet Zurer). "I'm just a lucky orphan your family took in," the Roman ruefully reminds Ben-Hur.

In order to find his place in the world, Messala turns his back on a burgeoning romance with Ben-Hur's sister Tirzah (Sofia Black D'Elia) and enlists in the Roman army. Three years later, the men are reunited in Roman-occupied Jerusalem where Messala has been entrusted with guaranteeing the safe passage of governor Pontius Pilate (Pilou Asbaek). Unfortunately, a zealot harboured by Ben-Hur makes an attempt on Pilate's life and the governor demands swift action. "Rome is begging for blood. I have to give them some," growls Messala, who condemns Ben-Hur to hard labour as a galley slave under the yoke of captain Quintus Arias (James Cosmo). A cruel twist of fate delivers Ben-Hur into the clutches of Nubian Sheik Ilderim (Freeman), who helps the embittered Jew to exact revenge against his adoptive Roman brother in a high-profile chariot race.

Ben-Hur might be the shortest version of the story committed to celluloid thus far - Wyler's masterpiece is 50 minutes longer - but Bekmambetov's picture noticeably drags. Huston and Kebbell are solid though neither possesses the charisma of an A-list leading man like Heston, who commanded attention during bombastic action sequences. Repeatedly, characters question their resolve and are told to hold firm to their course. Faith conquers all, but audiences who keep the faith with Bekmambetov's film won't be rewarded in this lifetime. Or the next.

- Sam Cannon

Ben-Hur. Copyright: 2016 Paramount Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. Caption: Toby Kebbell plays Messala Severus and Jack Huston plays Judah Ben-Hur, directed by Luke Scott. Photo: Philippe Antonello. All Rights Reserved.


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