Netflix UK film review: Ben-Hur (2016)
Game of Thronesyness2
Morgan Freeman’s wig4
Mike Williams | On 21, Jan 2017Reading time: 2 mins
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Cast: Jack Huston, Toby Kebbell, Morgan Freeman
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Ben-Hur is perhaps the finest example of a remake no one wanted. Who were the people that wanted to see an 11–time Oscar winner from 1959 recreated for the oblivious millennial? But the intended audience is perhaps the least of this movie’s worries. Timur Bekmambetov directs a film that, even from the moment it begins, comes across as a particularly sterile, painfully staged go at a period piece. With Game of Thrones proving so popular over the past several years, it seems every era-driven/fantasy drama that hits the big screen is in some way attempting to recreate its atmosphere and appeal. Ben-Hur tragically misses the mark by a long shot.
It’s worrying that in what is dubbed an ‘action-adventure’, there is very little of either. Lots of talking and an attempt to build conflict are thwarted by a clean-looking aesthetic that appears so untouched that it’s obvious everyone has come straight from wardrobe. The sets, too, exude a particular fakeness, whether it’s what we see in the foreground or the shoddily slapped together green screen.
But despite creating a reboot that nobody was crying out for and a set of costumes and locales that wouldn’t even convince a child, there are yet more calamities worth noting. Morgan Freeman – who’s still going at the age of 79 – does little to impress here, as his character, Ilderim, does little more than pace through the motions of an enabler to Jack Huston’s Judah Ben-Hur. Toby Kebbell features in an underwhelming, lacklustre part. Rodrigo Santoro assumes the role of Christ and, especially in a time where religion is lacking strength in mainstream youth audiences, the idea that JC pops up is unfortunately rather hilarious.
The whole set-up is, at times, so unconvincing that you could swear Judah was at one point sporting denim jeans and a t-shirt you’ve seen in Topman. But it’s the complete lack of enthusiasm, originality, or even a spark of something exciting that makes this stink to high heaven. The screenplay boasts an illogical, often baffling reasoning regarding its main characters and you’ll quickly lose all faith in what they’re fighting for: one moment there’s murderous, treacherous hatred between family; the next everyone has forgiven and forgotten. And it’s this lack of conviction – not to mention the foggy sense of morality – that makes Ben-Hur terribly stale and irrelevant.
Ben-Hur (2016) is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
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Photo: Philippe Antonello © Paramount Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.