This movie gave me a migraine and I’m not saying that to be funny. Seriously, those who have motion sickness or who can’t handle a lot of shaky, handheld camerawork (like far more than any Bourne movie level of shaky) should stay far, far away from this movie.
True Confession: This kind of movie is the hubs’ catnip and I went for him. He hated this movie as much as I did, and for all the same reasons. So, now you know – yeah, it really is that bad.
Ben-Hur is a remake of the classic Charlton Heston film. I’m not a reviewer who feels that a remake “ruins” the original. I am a reviewer, however, who loathes the current trend of allowing people having grand mal epileptic seizures to hold the cameras.
The story: Massala Severus (Toby Kebbell) – insert your own Harry Potter joke here – is adopted by a Jewish family so he and Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston) grow up as competitive but totally loving, bonded brothers. But Massala goes to Rome to prove himself and comes back as a jerk. Things are misunderstood and Judah is turned into a galley slave while his wife, Esther (Nazanin Boniadi), manages to escape and hang out with Jesus (Rodrigo Santoro), while his sister, Tirzah (Sofia Black-D’Elia), and mother, Naomi (Ayelet Zurer), are presumed horribly killed. Judah meets a wise and helpful African, Ilderim (Morgan Freeman), who helps him get into the big chariot race. Judah wins, Jesus dies, and everything else is okay for the remaining Ben-Hur/Ilderim tribe.
I can’t sit through more than about five minutes of the original Ben-Hur, and I wasn’t bored during this version, so it should be getting a great review from me. And, frankly, the script was fine, though I have some complaints, and the acting is also fine, though again, some complaints. And the character of Jesus is portrayed pretty darned perfectly. But this movie spends at least 85% of its time shaking the cameras around, so that even when two characters are standing still and having a quiet conversation the camera is shaking. It’s nauseous and nausea-inducing. And it ruins the film, especially the chariot race, which is the only freaking point of this entire movie in the first place.
My script complaints are few but they are mighty:
1) Everything bad is set in motion because Naomi doesn’t really love Massala as her own son and treats him unkindly, at least as far as we see. So, in keeping with Biblical tradition, it’s all a woman’s fault.
2) Ilderim is able to train Judah to race chariots in what seems like an afternoon AND he’s able to be heard over 100,000 people in the stands and 11 chariots and 44 horses thundering past in order to shout coaching tips to Judah, without benefit of even a megaphone.
3) There is no logical reason explained for why the guy who saves Naomi and Tirzah (he’s a Roman and I can’t remember his name in the movie and none of the actors on IMDB look right so, sorry, he’s just “the guy” now) is as we see him later in the movie – it’s like he’s been wandering the desert as a crazy man, but the why of this isn’t clear and it needs to be; otherwise, he’s just there for writer convenience and, in that case, other characters doing this would have made more sense. MUCH more sense, honestly.
My complaints about the acting center around Morgan Freeman. In Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves he played, as a friend called it, The Magical Moor. This was to get a person of color into that movie, and, fine, whatever, at least they tried. And Freeman was good in that movie. But in this movie, despite the character making sense to be there, Freeman is again The Magical Moor, only far less magical. His performance is too American and it just sucks the reality out of the movie. Freeman is an amazing actor but in this case, I never stopped thinking that it WAS Morgan Freeman. He never became Ilderim for me, not once, and since his voice is so commanding, the film needed him to be Ilderim. For which I blame the director, Timur Bekmambetov, now topping my Most Hated List. As I blame him for everything else I hated about this movie.
Though there is an enjoyable remake hidden behind the worst camera work in the word, I cannot recommend this movie at all, because it gave me a migraine (again, not kidding) and since you pretty much can’t watch it, why spend your money to see it? It might be better on the small screen, where the constant shaking won’t be as large and therefore as unsettling, but I make no promises.
If you dare to go, take Dramamine beforehand. And bring along a lot of Advil.
Rating: Script & Actors – 3 Stars, Filming Style – 1 Star, Average score – 2 Stars
BEN-HUR is the epic story of Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston), a prince falsely accused of treason by his adopted brother Messala (Toby Kebbell), an officer in the Roman army. Stripped of his title, separated from his family and the woman he loves (Nazanin Boniadi), Judah is forced into slavery. After years at sea, Judah returns to his homeland to seek revenge, but finds redemption. Based on Lew Wallace’s timeless novel, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. Also starring Morgan Freeman and Rodrigo Santoro.