Directed by Timur Bekmambetov, Ben-Hur is the latest remake to run through the Hollywood assembly line. Likewise, it is the most recent biblical epic Hollywood has produced. That being said, the movie stars Jack Huston in the title role with Toby Kebbell as Messala, Morgan Freeman as the Sheik and Rodrigo Santoro as Jesus himself.
The movie’s plot should be familiar to anyone who has either seen the original movie with the novel that inspired the movie. For those unfamiliar, however, the story revolves around a Jewish prince named Judah Ben-Hur who is betrayed by his childhood friend Messala, a Roman centurion. This leads to Ben-Hur being accused of treason and forced to work as a galley slave. Meanwhile his family is taken and presumed killed, something which is later proven to be false. However, after five years at sea, the ship in Ben-Hur is enslaved on is sunk in battle. Ben-Hur is the only survivor, and this leads to him being taken in by a nomadic sheik. Thus he takes a trip back to Jerusalem. Once there, he reconnects with his wife. In the end, though, he’d face Messala in a reworking of the iconic chariot race from the classic. However, throughout the whole movie, Ben-Hur has frequent encounters with Jesus of Nazareth—encounters which ultimately change Ben-Hur for the better.
To many, the movie is never going to be as good as the William Wyler classic. Though that does not detract from the movie being enjoyable on its own merit. In fact, it was a lot better than I thought it was going to be. This is especially notable since I watched the other one only a few days before. This unfortunately resulted in the occasional case of deja-vu, especially during the argument that leads to the betrayal. This particular scene is taken almost verbatim from the original. However, this movie is not a shot for shot remake. In fact, the movie actually begins earlier in the story and makes you care about Messala before the betrayal (which becomes sadder as a result). Also, both Jesus and the Sheik are given much bigger roles. If anything, my biggest criticism with the movie would be that the editing is a little off. Basically, there are way too many rapid cuts and extreme close ups (especially during the chariot race). However, this is only a minor gripe in an otherwise good movie.