Ben Hur review: This revamped narrative fails to keep viewers engrossed

  • Rashid Irani, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Aug 21, 2016 11:01 IST
Ben Hur has great spectacle but fails to measure up to the 1959 version in excitement. (OfficialBenHurFilm/Facebook)

Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Cast: Jack Huston, Toby Kebbell
Rating: 2.5 /5

First, the good news. This reboot of William Wyler’s beloved biblical epic is hardly the folly it was widely rumoured to be. It’s actually better than anyone would have a right to expect. Even the celebrated centrepiece chariot race from the 1959 version is replicated with considerable verve.

There’s no denying that incoming Kazakh director Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted) has a flair for staging spectaculars.

Disappointingly, however, he is unable to keep the viewer engrossed in the revamped narrative despite the significantly shorter runtime (reduced by almost an hour and a half). In the event, the Wyler version remains the gold standard for sheer edge-of-your-seat excitement.

Watch the trailer of Ben Hur here:

Also, with the notable exception of Morgan Freeman as the dreadlocked African horse trader, the performances of the rest of the cast, including the two new leads Jack Huston and Toby Kebbell, are stilted.

For the benefit of those unfamiliar with the 1880 source novel by Lew Wallace or the classic film from 1959, the plot of Ben-Hur revolves around the long-smouldering conflict between the Jewish prince Judah (Huston, in this version, taking on the role immortalised by the late Charlton Heston) and his adopted Roman brother Messala (Kebbell, standing in for Stephen Boyd).

Read: Ben-Hur review | God, they put Morgan Freeman in a Bob Marley wig

Sold into slavery on trumped-up charges of sedition, the wronged nobleman returns home to seek vengeance against his surrogate sibling.

Eventually, the two former-friends-turned-foes go chariot-to-chariot in the arena for a replay of one of the most iconic action sequences in American cinema.

There is a half-hearted attempt to impart a pacifist message, what with occasional glimpses of Christ (Rodrigo Santoro) prior to his crucifixion.

No matter. Despite the quibbles, the retold tale of betrayal and redemption in the time of the Messiah is worth a watch.

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