Ben-Hur: Movie Review
PG-13 for sequences of violence and disturbing images
Adventure, Drama, History
August 19, 2016
Jack Huston, Toby Kebbell, Nazanin Boniadi, Morgan Freeman, Sofia Black-D'Elia, Pilou Asbæk, Rodrigo Santoro, Ayelet Zurer
The epic story of Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston), a prince falsely accused of treason by his adopted brother, an officer in the Roman army. After years at sea, Judah returns to his homeland to seek revenge, but finds redemption.
To say Ben-Hur is the biggest faith-friendly movie of the year would not be an exaggeration. One could even say it's the best Hollywood has done in a while.
This blockbuster remake is ready for a new generation. Director Timur Bekmambetov, who's known for his Angelina Jolie/James McAvoy assassin action flick, Wanted, takes the reins on this big-budget Paramount picture. And, he delivers. Ben-Hur, the 2016 edition, is both inspirational and entertaining. If you were disappointed with Hollywood's epic faith films of the recent past (namely Noah and Exodus: God and Kings), then you'll find redemption in Ben-Hur.
Starring British actors Jack Huston and Toby Kebbell, and celebrated actor Morgan Freeman, Ben-Hur resurrects the story Charlton Heston's legendary chariot race made famous. At the same time, this version is ready for a new generation of moviegoers. With a strong, God-focused narrative, compelling characters, and intense action, Ben-Hur, in some ways, may even be better than Heston's 1959 classic.
Based on author Lew Wallace's bestselling novel, published to wide acclaim in 1880, Ben-Hur reaches back into history to bring modern audiences an engaging story set in 33 AD Jerusalem. Interwoven into the days leading up to Jesus' crucifixion, the film connects the life of a Jewish nobleman with Christ's life-giving message and sacrifice. Judah Ben-Hur is the center of the story, with the Son of God (Rodrigo Santoro) playing a part in crucial moments throughout the film.
Here's the plot in a nutshell: Judah Ben-Hur (Huston) is a young Jewish prince, who's made his peace with the Roman occupation in his hometown of Jerusalem. His family is safe and happy, including the woman he loves, a household servant named Esther (Nazanin Boniadi). But, his life turns upside down when he's falsely accused of sedition and condemned by his beloved, adopted brother, Messala (Kebbell). Sentenced to a life of slavery in the galley of a Roman warship, Judah spends the next five years tormented by his brother's betrayal and bent on revenge.
What's great about Ben-Hur, which was executive produced by Mark Burnett and Roma Downey (The Bible miniseries), is how wonderfully the storylines thread through each scene, tying the drama and action together well. From beginning to end, we're taken on an emotional ride as two brothers, who at one time would gladly die for each other, fall into bitterness and hatred. The reckoning reaches its pinnacle in a grand battle of wills and chariots at the newly erected Roman stadium in a race honoring none other than Pontius Pilate (Pilou Asbæk). The takeaway is a timely one and one that convinces you of the sheer destruction of revenge and the absolute healing power of forgiveness. Ben-Hur has a message for moviegoers: forgiveness begets life and only death can come from vengeful hatred.
Ben-Hur's flaws are few, but worth mentioning. As the movie introduces its main cast of characters, it lags. At 2 hours and 21 minutes, it's a good hour and two minutes (or so) shorter than Heston's version. But, there are still moments that could've benefited from some cutting. Though the ending is powerful, some of the "resolutions" are too quickly resolved. Also, a couple of lines of dialogue aren't very clear.
Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and disturbing images, Ben-Hur is not a movie for children. Neither is it for the faint of heart. Battle sequences, crucifixions, and moments on a slave-driven ship may be to disturbing for some. Caution is advised.
All in all, Ben-Hur is an epic portrayal of how forgiveness can heal the deepest of wounds. Though not a Bible or Jesus movie, this historical adventure rights the ship when it comes to Hollywood's attempt at making a big-budget, faith-friendly movie. Paramount should be proud and make more films like it and Christians should see it opening weekend so they have a reason to.