Bah, Ben Hur!
1 ½ stars
This movie tears apart aesthetics and bludgeons on a beloved classic as if nothing matters. The screen is filled with so much violence that you are reduced to grimacing all through its 2 hours and 4 minutes running time. If you are really interested in a medieval epic, watch the original.
Remakes are tough to watch. Especially if the original is so fabulous. And the legends around the original are still spoken about in movie quizzes and movie clubs and college courses in film appreciation. After watching the new ‘American’ version of Ben Hur, one realises that Hollywood is suffering from an acute lack of ideas and that it continues in making epic mistakes by remaking classics.
This film starts out looking good. Seriously. Ben (Jack Huston) and Messala (Toby Kebbell) racing on horses and when Ben is injured, Messala carries him back home. Then Messala asks his adopted mother, ‘Mum, what do I do now?’
‘Mum?’ Did he just say, ‘Mum?’
That’s within fifteen minutes of the movie. And in your head you are already thinking of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, Ben Affleck as Batman, James Bond or Jason Bourne near the Big Ben…
Once you get used to Jews and Romans speaking ‘American’ you are not surprised when Jesus speaks in an American accent as well.
The story follows the original, and yet it’s just so much more violent than required. The original story has loose tiles falling in front of the visiting Roman Consul and spooking his horse. Perfectly adequate reason for Messala to believe that he needs to arrest Ben and make an example of him. In this film, there is a young rebel (the gruesome ‘operation’ Ben conducts in the stable is so unnecessary) who shoots an arrow at the consul and kills one Roman soldier and injures several others when the consul ducks. All that dragging of the women is so reminiscent of the 70’s and 80s Bollywood where dacoits carried away women or movies where the zamindaar and his men raped and pillaged women at will.
The Roman galleys are filled with scenes of whipping and dragging dead men from the galley to the surface. At one point when you want to say you’ve had enough, the ship is struck and people die. Horribly.
Ben Hur survives and now chained by Morgan Freeman in dreadlocks. You want to go back in time to plead with Bob Marley and tell him to cut his hair so he would not popularize this hairstyle…
It’s 45 minutes to go and we still have a race to watch. Remember the scary wheel spokes in the original film? You are only human if you are expecting the same in the gory, violent film. Alas, we are treated to wheel shots, but no spokes! You feel cheated. When you need violence and make a case for Messala cheating, there are no spoke adorned wheels!
But the violence reaches a peak with dismembered and trampled-by-horses bodies, dust, almost trampled by horses Ben, the snarls and the fear on charioteers, the flying-in-air-and-killing- bystanders-and-anything-that-is-in-the-way broken chariots… The sound effects of the wheels and the race are deafening. The only saving grace is the yelling from rival charioteers, ‘I’m gonna kill you/crush you!’
The quiet portion of the film, where Ben finds love in his heart (thanks to Jesus), just doesn’t seem to belong in the film, although it is a large part of the original story. You emerge from the movie shell-shocked from the noise and the violence.
As far as acting goes, it is superficial and the chemistry between Ben and Messala is no better than two naughty children forced to shake hands because their mums forced them to. You know that Huston is no competition to Heston. And this remake is a waste of time.
(this review appears on nowrunning dot com)