Ben-Hur - Review

PG-13 | 2h 4min | Adventure, Drama
Review - Matt Mungle

*Now playing in theaters*

SynopsisJudah Ben-Hur, a prince falsely accused of treason by his adopted brother, an officer in the Roman army, returns to his homeland after years at sea to seek revenge, but finds redemption.

Review: When the original Ben-Hur movie released in 1959 it was three and a half hours long and won eleven Oscars. This reboot is luckily much shorter but with fewer award worthy elements. Truth be told it is a very good film and one that will move and inspire viewers. Its story of forgiveness and heartbeat of endurance may not win the attention of voters but it is sure to thrill and stir the emotions of movie goers. 

Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston) and his adopted brother Messala Severus (Toby Kebbell) have always had a competitive nature; rooted in a bond of love and friendship. When a tragic event forces Severus to choose between his family and the Romans he now serves Ben-Hur is thrust into a nightmare world of slavery and a mind set on revenge. 

The story is powerful and this adaptation is masterfully written so that it moves steadily throughout. We are introduced to the characters in a time of peace then quickly moved to the dramatic moments that make it riveting. It covers a lot of ground both historically and fictionally without ever losing its way. We see the upheaval in Jerusalem due to the rise of the Roman government. Audiences feel the tension and empathize for Ben-Hur and the decisions he makes. He is a good man trying to do what is right. But as with most dramatic tales this backfires horribly. 

The film looks incredible.This was an unexpected and pleasant surprise. The attention to detail of the costumes as well as creating a Jerusalem countryside that mirrors what I would expect 33 AD to be set it apart from most dramas of that era. Other than Morgan Freeman most of the cast would not be considered a-listers. A smart move as this more than likely helped the studio to budget in ways that mattered most. It was a decision that paid off richly considering that these lesser known actors deliver top notch performances. 

Many may consider this to be a biblical film since it is set in the time period and home of Jesus. And yes Jesus (Rodrigo Santoro) is even a character in the film. But the movie is not biblical. We see Jesus as a contemporary of Ben-Hur and his presence is more of a vision of the thoughts and motives of his teachings. Not in a preachy or sermonizing way. But more of a compassionate nature that  effected Ben-Hur and later drives his decision making. It is a powerfully subtle inclusion in the story. 

Great story or not the true test of a Ben-Hur film is that final chariot race. That is payoff we all want to see. It has to be large and loud and colorful. We want to gasp and cling to our seats as the horses and chariots fly around the Colosseum and deadly speeds. Like those who attended them live we secretly want to see blood and crashes and our favorite man win. The race here is filmed nicely. We get all the elements just mentioned as well as the heart of the riders. We know what is at stake. We have felt the emotion of the journey leading up to it. We understand the importance of it. Not the sport only but the need for victory. That helps to elevate the excitement and fury of that final action sequence. 

BEN-HUR is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and disturbing images. I would say the themes and dialogue make it better suited for the 16 and up crowd. The imagery is at times graphic and might be a tad much for your preteen family members. It is a touching and moving portrayal of one mans heroic journey. I give it 3.75 out of 5 slings and arrows. I must admit I went in with very low expectations and came out on the other side very satisfies with the experience. It is a film I would watch again and might even slip in an award vote as well. 

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