The epic story of Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston), a prince falsely accused of treason by his adopted brother, an officer in the Roman army. After years at sea, Judah returns to his homeland to seek revenge, but finds redemption.
You really have to marvel at the sheer hubris it takes to remake Ben-Hur or even attempt another adaptation of the classic novel. The 1959 classic is up there with Jaws in creating what we now call the blockbuster. It had everything; a richly told story, a daring leading man, a believable villain, a thrilling score by Miklos Rosza and one of the greatest action setpieces ever committed to film. That's not an exaggeration either. You only need to go back and watch Ben-Hur to know that it still holds up incredibly well to this day, particularly the Chariot Race sequence. Why director Timur Bekmambetov thought he could take it on and make something new out of it when it was perfect the first time around is mind-boggling.
Ben-Hur will go down in history as everything that is wrong with modern remakes. Let's start with the casting. Jack Huston cannot begin to compare with the screen presence of Charlton Heston and, more pointedly, Huston is not a leading actor and cannot convincingly carry a performance off like this. Toby Kebbell, who plays Messala and was memorably characterised by Irish actor Stephen Boyd in the original, plays the role with almost no interest whatsoever. Morgan Freeman collects his paycheque with the usual amount of effort and is on his way. Nanzanin Boniadi, who plays the love interest Esther, is completely forgettable as is Ayelet Zurer, who plays Ben-Hur's mother. Danish actor Pilo Asbaek chews the scenery as Pontius Pilate and mistakes laughable attempts at gravitas for screen presence. The only one who's remotely decent at their job is Rodrigo Santoro, who plays Jesus Christ. Yet, therein lies the true problem with Ben-Hur.
The film was produced and developed by Roma Downey and Mark Burnett, who have took it upon themselves to inflict born-again Christian ideals and values on the viewing public. Their TV ventures saw bland, whitewashed adaptations of the story of the Resurrection and stories about guardian angels rescuing people from moral sins and now, they're trying to do the same with films. While it's true, the original title of the novel is Ben-Hur: A Tale Of The Christ, the 1959 film cleverly placed Jesus and its message of redemption into a more general, secular setting than the way screenwriter John Ridley and Keith Clarke approach it. Here, it's hammered at repeatedly and the audience is made to suffer through a sales pitch from televangelists like Roma Downey and Mark Burnett.
We come to Timur Bekmambetov, who's basically a charlatan of a director. Wanted was a mess of a film, but it looked unlike anything like it at the time. Looking at Wanted now, it's just a slapdash effort. The messy, sloppy direction with which he used on Wanted and the equally poor Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is brought to bear on an iconic sequence in film history; namely the Chariot Sequence. Using cheap tricks like GoPro cameras and cut-rate CGI, Bekmambetov openly mocks the original and confirms himself as one of the least effective action directors working today. Needless to say, the emotional scenes in Ben-Hur are just as bad because, well, the actors are all terrible as well.
In the end, Ben-Hur is just awful on so many levels. The stupidity of the whole thing really does boggle the mind. Who would think for a second that they could top the original? Why would you even want to? You can respect someone for at least making a decent effort and trying, but this doesn't even come close. No, this is a sales pitch for born-again Christians wrapped up in Hollywood brand recognition.
God can't help you now, Ben-Hur. Probably one of the worst films of the year.