Never before has a seemingly simple tale of betrayal and revenge held an audience so conflicted, captivated and finally—moved.
Remakes often fill me with scepticism and a reluctance to engage, however Ben Hur has successfully destroyed that fear. There is no doubt that Ben Hur was an historical giant of a film, known by name and synopsis to most of us, even if we haven’t seen it due to the idea of a 1959 classic film of 3 hours and 44 minutes filling us with terror.
However 2016’s compact 2 hour 30 minute retelling directed by Timur Bekmambetov and written by Keith Clarke and John Ridley reawakens the story for a new generation, the bone-rending action, tear-jerking drama and though-provoking scenes of historic significance will strike the heart of even the harshest cynic.
From the opening moments the film sets a scene that transplants us into the heart of Jerusalem in the time leading up to the death of Jesus Christ, a curious background story that is surprisingly important in connecting the main themes of the film. Judah Ben Hur, our hero, is presented with a gut wrenching moment of betrayal in which he loses his entire family at the hand of his adopted brother. This life changing moment in time initiates an 8 year long path to revenge that nothing can repair, yet interwoven throughout the film is an almost subliminal message of an alternative path from revenge. When revenge finally comes and does not fulfil Judah in the way he thought it would, he finally understands the alternative path, leading to a quick succession of events that bring a miraculous but unusually believable end to the story.
The cast of relative newcomers put full passion into their performance. Jack Huston and Toby Kebbell act the socks off their roles, giving life to the two brothers torn between love for family and a want for revenge. There is an impressive condensing of a story that in original format was over 3 hours long. This cinched version doesn’t lose any of the storytelling. The cinematography is beautiful, right from the close up action shots of pounding horse hooves, riders falling, and the hyper-immersive 3D experience of the final chariot race, to the Mediterranean scenery shots of ‘Jerusalem’ (filmed on location in Italy and California).
You should see this film. It really does spark questions and thoughts that will stay with you for days. At the very least it will be an epic drama that you will enjoy just for the quality of the shots and storytelling… You’ll be moved and enthralled, and pleasantly surprised that a remake can be this good.