Timur Bekmambetov
Jack Huston, Pilou Asbæk, Rodrigo Santoro
"Chariots and Challenges: A Modern Take on a Timeless Tale"

Posted Friday, Nov 24, 2023 90

The 2016 adaptation of `Ben-Hur` takes us on a sprawling journey of a nobleman, Judah Ben-Hur, who survives years of slavery under the Romans after being falsely accused of treason by his adopted brother, Messala Severus. The story culminates in a monumental chariot race that decides the fates of both men.

Themes of betrayal, revenge, and redemption race through the heart of `Ben-Hur`, much like the chariots in its central arena. The film grapples with the notion of family and faith, set against a backdrop of political turmoil. The tone fluctuates between intimate moments of emotional turmoil and grandiose displays of spectacle.

Jack Huston slips into the sandals of Judah Ben-Hur with a mixture of nobility and vulnerability, while Toby Kebbell infuses Messala with a conflicted sense of duty and ambition. The performances are earnest, but occasionally lack the gravitas required to elevate the characters beyond their archetypal origins.

Timur Bekmambetov helms the chariot with a vision to modernize the epic. His handling of action sequences delivers a thrilling frenzy, though the quieter moments of character development sometimes lose their footing amidst the spectacle.

Ben-Hur movie review

The score of `Ben-Hur` swells with orchestral grandeur, mirroring the epic`s scale. Marco Beltrami bridges the ancient and the contemporary, crafting motifs that underscore the emotional journeys of the characters.

Oliver Wood`s cinematography captures the harsh landscapes and opulent palaces of the Roman Empire with a sweeping breadth, but is most exhilarating during the thunderous chariot race, where the camera whips through the arena, immersing the audience in the chaos.

The production design impressively recreates the splendor and squalor of the era. From the dusty streets of Jerusalem to the regal chambers of Pontius Pilate, the visual tapestry is richly woven, if occasionally veering towards the theatrical.

The grand set pieces employ a bevy of special effects that succeed in conjuring a convincing ancient world, although sometimes the reliance on CGI is palpable and detracts from the organic authenticity of the setting.

Ben-Hur movie review

The editing stitches together the sprawling narrative and action efficiently, though at times the transition between intimate drama and vast spectacle feels jarring. The pacing oscillates to accommodate the undulating plot, with the chariot race, undoubtedly, being a tight, adrenaline-fueled sequence.

The film endeavors to maintain a steady pace, but can fall prey to sluggishness primarily when delving into its more reflective or expository segments. However, the pace hits a gripping stride in the build-up and execution of the iconic chariot event.

While aiming for a degree of period authenticity, the dialog often veers into the realm of modern melodrama, failing to consistently capture the poetic antiquity of its setting or the complexity of its themes.

The 2016 rendition of `Ben-Hur` struggles to emerge from the shadow of its cinematic predecessors. It`s a visual testament to what contemporary film-making can achieve in terms of spectacle, yet it fumbles in its quest for emotional resonance. The narrative is earnest and filled with potential, but the execution doesn`t always deliver on its promise of an epic for a new generation.

As the credits roll on this latest `Ben-Hur`, I found myself caught between admiration for the ambition behind this retelling and a lingering desire for more depth. The visuals command attention, but it`s the human connection that proves to be less gripping. In the end, it`s a film that offers a modern spectacle, but struggles to fully capture the emotive core that distinguishes a story as truly timeless.