By Jonathan Decker (Family therapist, film critic)
WHAT'S BEN-HUR ABOUT?
A Jewish prince seeks revenge on the adopted brother who betrayed him into slavery, but encounters with Jesus Christ teach him a better way.
IS IT ANY GOOD? (GRADE: C+)
Watching the new Ben-Hur is like attending a concert by a decent cover band. The material is familiar and beloved with good reason, the right notes are being hit, the right words are being said, and it's pretty good… but can't hold a candle to the original. True, the classic 1959 Charlton Heston version was itself a remake (and all are adapted from the Lew Wallace novel), but having won a dozen Oscars it's rightly considered the gold standard for this story. It told the tale in three and a half hours; this version takes just two, making certain subplots feel rushed and certain emotional payoffs less powerful than they could be.
Still, this is an excellent story and it would take more than pacing issues, along with this film's over-reliance on handheld camerawork and frantic editing, to derail it. In the title role Jack Huston is no Heston; he doesn't have the gravitas or the range, but his relationships with his adopted brother Messala (Toby Kebbell) and his wife Esther (Nazanin Boniadi) are well-drawn and elicit audience investment. The action is exhilarating, especially the climatic chariot race. Morgan Freeman is excellent (as always) in his supporting role.
Unfortunately the role of Jesus Christ in the story is given short shrift here. He was always a peripheral character in Ben-Hur, but the decision to show his face demands that he be developed more as a character. All told this isn't the film the story deserves, but neither is it the train wreck Rotten Tomatoes would have you believe. It's definitely worth a rental, but if your jonesing for an excellent biblical film watch the original or this year's Risen.
IS IT OKAY FOR YOUR KIDS?
Ben-Hur is rated PG-13. There is plentiful action violence, with persons shot in the neck and chest with arrows, stabbed with swords, burnt with oil, lit on fire, and trampled/crushed in a chariot race. Persons are whipped as they row a boat. Jesus Christ hangs upon the cross. A husband and wife kiss fervently and are later shown in bed together (shoulders-up view, talking after making love). A non-believer says “Oh my God” several times.
ANY WORTHWHILE MESSAGES?
Do not value pride or position over family. Revenge and hatred only lead to emptiness and heartache; forgiveness and love are the path to peace and joy.
Looking for quality Bible flicks? Look no further!