“Ben-Hur” Review; Done That

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The gladiator-esque tone of bloody vengeance and historically gritty battles may have drawn you in to watch “Ben-Hur”, but do not be fooled. The film’s choppy editing and boring exposition made it difficult to continue watching. The film may have been tolerable had it not been for the out-of-place fairytale ending which felt completely unnecessary for this historical tale.

2016’s “Ben-Hur”, directed by Timur Bekmambetov and written by Keith Clarke and John Ridley, is the fifth film adaptation of the 1880 novel “Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ” by Lew Wallace. The film also follows the classic 1959 “Ben-Hur” epic. The film is about Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston), a prince falsely accused of treason by his adopted brother, Messala Severus (Toby Kebbell), who is an officer of the Roman army. After returning to his homeland after years at sea to seek revenge, he unexpectedly finds redemption.

The best aspect that can be said about this film is the performances made by Huston as Judah Ben-Hur and Kebbell as Messala Severus. Both carried this messy film well, in its many low moments and in its high moments. Even with some of the movie’s cheesy and predictable lines, both actors made this tale more believable than it should have been. The unrealistic ending summed up my belief that both actors were wasted in this film.

The two best scenes in the entire film are the slave ship scene and the chariot race. The grim and hopeless atmosphere and the vile conditions that Judah and the slaves were forced into immediately got my attention. I got to see a drastic change in Judah’s character after spending years at sea. The movie taking its time to develop his character deserves some props because Judah Ben-Hur and his justification for revenge against his adopted brother needed to be convincing and the movie did that well. The chariot race was shot pretty well, and when the second race started, it got fantastically bloody. Those watching gladiator and chariot featured films want to see bodies flying, bodies trampled, and limbs torn off. They want blood, and “Ben-Hur” delivers.

However, just because “Ben-Hur” possesses great acting and some satisfying action scenes but does not mean that it is a good film. The film is boring. The first 30 minutes are used to set up the good life the Ben-Hur family has with the tension between Jerusalem and Rome ever present. However, the way that the exposition is directed makes 30 minutes feel like an hour. I had to stop the film many times to check the time. “Ben-Hur” should be fast-paced, and when it slows down, it should at least be interesting. But it was not.

A film like “Ben-Hur” should not have linear storytelling. It was the film’s downfall. The first half-hour should have been shaved off with the beginning on the slave ship. Not only would that have been an epic start to a revenge tale, but it would have also sped up the film. The time Judah Ben-Hur spent on the slave ship should have been elongated, and scenes from his past as a prince of Jerusalem should have leaked through the scenes as flashbacks. The emotional relation between his once-happy life and his life as a slave would have been more impactful.

The disjointed editing did not mesh well with the film. The transition between an emotional scene and an action scene was, at times abrupt, and some important scenes felt unnecessarily shortened while less important expositional scenes were uninteresting and too long. This made “Ben-Hur” a frustrating piece of work. The uneven pacing made it difficult at times to follow along and to get attached to some characters and tension-building scenes.

But what really made “Ben-Hur” unfulfilling and intolerable to watch ever again was not the bad editing or the slow storytelling. It was the dumb ending. Instead of ending in sweet revenge like was expected out of a “Ben-Hur” film, this new iteration mistakenly added a cheesy and extremely unrealistic “walking into the sunset,” cherry on top of a convoluted piece of work.

2016’s “Ben-Hur” is a classic example of a film reimaging a respected source material. It tried to overreach by shoving forgiveness in our faces when all we wanted was a gratifying tale of payback.

If you have time to waste, then “Ben-Hur” (2016) is the movie for you.