Wednesday, 14 September 2016

'Ben-Hur' (2016) Review

Out of all the films being remade, did the 11 time Academy Award winner need to be created again? The 1959 version was indeed a remake of a silent film so it made sense to why it happened and you wouldn't look back at it and say it was a bad decision. When you look to remake a film that was so succesful, it's hard to build on it and make the film worthwhile. Unfortunately, this is another case of a movie being remade just for the money.

Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston) and his adopted brother Messala (Toby Kebbell) are very close until Messala decides to join the Roman Empire. After asking Judah for help to make sure Pontius Pilate makes it through Jerusalem safely, things turn south as Messala accuses Judah of helping to try kill the Roman general. Judah is now sent to be a slave in a ship, rowing all day. After a battle, Judah is fortunate to be free and is saved by Sheik Ilderim (Morgan Freeman). Now the opportunity has risen for Judah to get his revenge in an epic and deadly chariot race against his adopted brother. 

Now this remake is far from the worst ever made. The biggest problem with this remake is that it doesn't build anything upon the original. To simply put it, you should just watch the 1959 version as it is the best form of the movie. I know some of the main goals are to modernise the film but in a historical drama like this, it really isn't needed. It is a shame as there isn't really anything terrible about this movie but at the same time, there's nothing new or anything that really stands out.

To give the film some credit, they did handle the relationship of the two brothers fairly well. They showcase the closeness between the two as they spend a lot of time together, from racing to partying with each other. You can really feel the brotherly bond that they have for each other and you care for them early on. It was good to see that they took the time to do this right as it is vital to the film and makes the betrayal much more impactful. Toby Kebbell and Jack Huston also deserve credit for this as they also did fairly well as the two leads and combined very well throughout the film. From the moments of brotherly love to the moments of conflict, the pair did well.

Morgan Freeman appears in a ridiculous looking role with large grey dreadlocks and is referred to as 'The African' throughout the movie. He doesn't dazzle and seems to be another standard performance that we have seen from him in recent years. Nizanin Boniadi does a great job as Esther, a servant and love interest to Judah. Boniadi does very well in the scenes where the couple have troubles with their relationship considering their roles in society. I had only ever seen in her 'How I Met Your Mother' beforehand and I was impressed with her work overall. Rodrigo Santoro is also a standout as Jesus who carries the message of being compassionate throughout the film. His appearances are dotted around at random where you kind of forget about him at times but this does not take anything away from Santoro's solid performance.

The action throughout the movie is kind of a mixed bag for me. The scene with the warships is very good as we see it from the point of view of Judah. It is very well crafted and shot scene that is probably the highlight of the film. You see how brutal the conditions are for the slaves as well as the hard-hitting action as the ships crash into each other. This is the first piece of real action we see as well and at that point, you feel as if the movie is going to really kick on. We all know that a big part of the film is the chariot race at the end which didn't quite grab me like I wanted it to. I never really felt on the edge of my seat in the finale as it doesn't show a lot of the two brothers going at it. Instead, we get a whole bunch of disposable characters who are taken out through out the race until the last lap. Then the two brothers face off and it doesn't really deliver to the full extent and it seems to be over fairly quickly. It builds up for this epic conclusion that seems a bit lacklustre, not packing as much of a punch as you'd hoped.

The ending for this film is also very weak. It does carry the ever-present message of taking action to show compassion towards anyone, even those who have wronged you. However, with everything that has happened and the hell that Messala has put his family through, there is no gripe at all and everything goes back to normal. At the start, it shows Messala and his mother not having a great relationship but by the end and after all the pain he has caused her, they seem to have a better relationship. This really hurt the film as it just seemed too ridiculous and very unrealistic.

Overall, 'Ben-Hur' at the very least is watchable. The performances really help this one but unfortunately, it cannot step out of the enormous shadow of the 1959 version. Not the worst remake but still doesn't do anything to merit the remake happening. I'd recommend just watching the 1959 version as it is still superior on multiple levels. 

Final Verdict = 

So have you seen the new 'Ben-Hur'? If so what did you think of it? I hope that this review was useful for if you were planning on seeing this movie. Once again, thank you for taking the time to read my review, it is much appreciated!

By Angus McGregor