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Film review: Ben-Hur – Timur Bekmambetov’s unadventurous remake will not win 11 Oscars

Director shows his mettle in action sequences and set pieces but overall the viewer is reminded of other, better films when watching this inconsequential reboot

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 August, 2016, 3:47pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 August, 2016, 4:02pm

2 stars

Chariot races, galley slaves and the Messiah himself all return for Timur Bekmambetov’s remake of the Charlton Heston classic, but Ben-Hur proves yet another underwhelming blockbuster in a season packed with unnecessary remakes.

Best known for the Angelina Jolie thriller Wanted, Bekmambetov seems an unlikely choice to revisit one of Hollywood’s most beloved epics, yet proves his mettle in the film’s showcase action sequences, not least the climactic 10-minute chariot race. Elsewhere, this unadventurous reboot can only highlight how recent epics like Ridley Scott’s Gladiator have already plundered the William Wyler film of its richest assets.

Morgan Freeman, star of Ben-Hur, talks God, motivation and guacamole

Lacking the grandiose scale of its 11-time Oscar winning predecessor, the central rivalry between Jewish prince Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston) and Roman general Messala (Toby Kebbell) – now Judah’s adopted brother rather than friend – lacks any discernible spark. Judah’s crime is elevated to harbouring murderous zealots, which prompts his banishment to a Roman galley.

There he languishes until fortune puts him in the hands of Morgan Freeman’s African charioteer trainer, who lends his effortless screen presence to what was previously a mostly comedic character.

Ben-Hur’s most notable change is the expanded role of Jesus, never seen head-on in Wyler’s film, but now portrayed in plain sight by Brazilian Rodrigo Santoro. After all, Lew Wallace’s bestselling novel was subtitled “A Tale of the Christ”, and Bekmambetov devotes ample screen time to the laying on of hands and spouting of biblical zingers.

Faith-based films like Miracles from Heaven build followings at the American box office

So, while unlikely to attract mainstream summer crowds, this inconsequential reboot may yet find its calling among cinema’s increasingly influential Christian congregation.

Ben-Hur opens on August 18

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