Ben-Hur (2016)

Director: Timur Bekmambetov (2016) BBFC cert: 12A

A biblical bromance goes bad in this fourth big screen version of the epic tale set in Jesus-era Jerusalem.

Jack Huston and Toby Kebbell give career worst performances as the lifelong friends Ben and Messala, a Jewish prince and Roman officer.

When Ben is falsely accused of treachery, Messala arrests his family and sends his buddy into slavery. Ben’s quest for revenge involves a sea battle, a chariot race and a chance meeting with a luxuriously dreadlocked Morgan Freeman.

As the owner of a racing team, his character performs the same function as Oliver Reed did in Ridley Scott’s Gladiator (2000). Occasionally we hear echoes of Hans Zimmer’s epic score from that film as well.

Filmed in unrelenting unsteadycam, this feels like a TV mini series chopped down to cinema length when a buyer couldn’t be found, and a quick theatrical release considered an appropriate method of recouping the investment.

Contempt for the audience is a regular motif. The heavy fist of Roman oppression would seem a doddle compared to suffering the base level direction, writing and CGI on show here.

Assuming the grace of a one wheeled chariot, the film rattles through episodes of leprosy, arranged marriage, a stoning and crucifixion. Much needed momentum is lost whenever anyone stops to speak or think.

The 1959 version starring Charlton Heston became the first and only the third film to win eleven Oscars. At half the length, this film can only point to brevity as the only possible are of improvement.

Hunky carpenter Jesus keeps popping up to offer his message of forgiveness. But it’s hard to believe anyone involved in this shoddy level of craftsmanship is deserving of any.

@ChrisHunneysett

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