Ben-Hur, review: ‘good cast and competent visuals don’t make up for boring film’

Morgan Freeman as Ilderim and Jack Huston as Judah Ben-Hur. Picture: Paramount pictures

Morgan Freeman as Ilderim and Jack Huston as Judah Ben-Hur. Picture: Paramount pictures - Credit: Philippe Antonello

The cast is good and the visuals are competent but Ben-Hur fails to find a reason to justify its existence

This remake of the oft told tale of brotherly rivalry in the Roman Empire rides into town like a biker in a Born To Lose leather jacket.

“So what are ya remaking?” “I dunno, whadda ya got?” It’s as if Hollywood has some kind of reverse OCD to original ideas: where there is order they have a compulsion to mess it up.

The irony is that a no star cast remake of a 50s historical epic from the director of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is surely a far more risky project than almost any original script passing across a desk at Paramount.

I imagine someone in a prop department in Hollywood is even now building an over sized boot to be directed at whoever was responsible for greenlighting it.

Which is not to say that this brisk and lively skim read of Lew Wallace’s tale is terrible. The cast are good and the visuals competent.

It only has one real problem – its total failure to find any reason to justify its existence.

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It is as if the script was written by someone watching the 1959 Charlton Heston version with their finger poised over the fwd button, keen to whiz pass all the boring bits.

For older readers it is reminiscent of the Marty Feldman Lightning Coach Tour sketch about the speeded up day trip around London and the south coast: here’s the bit with Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston) and Messala (Toby Kebbel) as childhood friends, back on the bus, here’s the bit where Messala returns to Jerusalem as a Roman Hero, back on the bus, here’s the galley ship bit/ the leper colony/ the bit about Jesus and, at last, here’s the Chariot Race before a quick look at the crucifixion.

That the long dull film you fall asleep through at Christmas has been cut down to size would normally be a blessing but long and dull may be the only way to do Ben-Hur.

This version is much less A Story of The Christ and more like Gladiator but with only one action scene. And here’s the real kicker – they’ve built an entire film around a sequence that seegeeyeyez can’t improve on.

For a review of the Blu-ray release of Tarkovsky’s Nostalghia and The Night Of The Shooting Stars from the Taviani Brothers’ boxset visit

Rating: 2/5 stars

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