Movie Review: Ben Hur

Too intense for the church lady, but an epic experience for everyone else!  Unlike faith-based films to-date that rely on situational drama to create action, Ben Hur delivers real action and special effects that keep you on the edge of your seat.

Mild Spoilers to follow:

The remake of the 1959 classic film directed by William Wyler and starring Charlton Heston had a lot to live up to for any fans of the original film.  I personally own two copies of the original, eleven- Oscar-winning movie, so I approached the new version with a healthy dose of low expectations.  From the start, the movie establishes that it is going to blaze its own trail on the classic story.    The developers claim that their revised plot holds truer to the motivation behind Lew Wallace’s classic novel on which everything is based.  Gone is the tale of satisfying vengeance.  Instead, redemption takes center stage.  

While leading man Jack Huston (American Hustle, Boardwalk Empire) may have made the short list because his last name sounded slightly familiar to Ben Hur fans, he delivers a solid performance as does his character’s brother-turned-archenemy Toby Kebbell (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Fantastic Four) playing the complex role of Messala – a Roman solider raised in occupied Palestine.  The biggest name in the cast list, Morgan Freeman, has been elevated to a central role for promotional purposes only.  However, he does deliver a predictably solid performance in a supporting role throughout the last half of the film.  Aside from Freeman, much of the cast is relatively unknown to most movie goers, and the anonymity does well to minimize any distraction from the story of forgiveness that is clearly meant to be the star. 

For the modern mind looking for casual entertainment, the only distaste my come in the seeming lack of ultimate just-desserts that we have come to expect in our good vs evil films.  The new Ben Hur will also take a decidedly more faith-based turn, though much more subtle than other ‘Christian’ films of the last decade.  Christ himself hides his face from the cameras in the original film but transitions to a visual character in the new adaptation.  A few other small instances belie the religious nature of the film from cross shaped beams becoming a literal life-raft to some uniquely Catholic moments where Judah Ben Hur’s leprous family drinks rainwater tainted with the crucifixion blood of Christ rather than simply finding themselves in accidental contact with the blood-water runoff as in the 1959 film. 

I went into the movie a skeptic, but came out having enjoyed the experience.  My enjoyment was further bolstered as I heard a few more traditionally ‘churchy’ viewers discussing how shocked they were by the intensity of the action.  Hopefully, this means that the producers of the new film have created something that will finally bridge the gap between the average movie goer expecting a Marvel-esque thrill ride and faith-based film fans seeking meaning, purpose, and moral quality in their entertainment.  Ben Hur hits theaters August 19.           


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