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Times of India
The classic tale of Ben Hur (Huston) who is turned upon by his adopted brother Messala Severus (Kebbell) gets a modern-day retelling. Messala is a high ranking officer in the Roman Army while Ben Hur is an aristocrat. Their friendship gets soured and Messala falsely accuses Ben Hur of a crime that he did not commit. With everything taken away from him, Ben Hur must find the right path in life.
First off, it must be said that this film cannot and will not hope to replace the 1959 one that had Charlton Heston play the titular character. That movie, stretched over almost four hours was epic in every sense. But Huston does do a pretty decent job of essaying the role of Ben Hur with a degree of conviction. Kebbell's Messala is suitably nasty, as he treacherously turns upon Ben Hur, motivated by silly and petty reasons.
The other key characters - Ben Hur's wife Esther (Boniadi) and mother Naomi (Zurer) - also put in a convincing show. But you might end up wishing that the both of them got a bit more screen time. Ben-Hur takes its time to build up. Indeed the first half takes its time to gather pace. But the second half is where the action really gets going. It's almost like the movie suddenly shifts from first to fourth gear. Ben Hur is made to serve as a slave on a Roman galley. He is then rescued by Ilderim (Freeman) after being shipwrecked and rebuilds his life. Incidentally, a naval battle scene also deserves note, for it is quite nicely rendered. And the famed chariot race itself, where Messala and Ben Hur take each other on, makes this movie worthwhile. The intensity of that spectacle, combined with the awesome scale and majesty of the amphitheater, is beautifully done. It is literally edge-of-the-seat stuff.
Morgan Freeman's character - a shrewd but honest merchant who cannot resist a good bet - is sagely wise enough, and he carries it off with effortless ease. All in all, justice has been done to this tale of epic scale.
The lead role was offered to Tom Hiddleston but he chose to do Kong: Skull Island (2017) instead.
This is the sixth screen adaptation of Lew Wallace's novel.
The first remake of Ben Hur (1959) had won a total of 11 Oscars which is still a standing record for most Oscar wins (shared with Titanic and Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King).