Adoptive brothers, Judah and Messala are inseparable, but feeling the pull of his Roman heritage, Messala leaves his family to join the ranks of Roman soldiers to make a name for himself. Years later, Messala returns to his family home but his loyalties are soon tested when the family appear to have sympathies with those who oppose the Empire. On his brothers orders, Judah is taken away and separated from his mother and sister, forced into slavery on a Galley; when he finally escapes this terrible place, his heart is set on revenge.
Ben-Hur (2016) – Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Running Length: 125 mins
Starring: Jack Huston, Morgan Freeman, Toby Kebbell
Genre: Biblical, Drama
Based on the novel ‘Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ’ by Lew Wallace, ‘Ben-Hur’ follows the eponymous hero who suffers terribly at the hands of his brother; forced into slavery and losing everything dear to him, he rises from the ashes and comes back to seek his revenge.
Sticking closer to the source material than the 1959 Academy Award winning classic, this version’s main struggle is its inability to get off the ground, the first third being entirely build-up to the main plot; very little happens until around the 40 minute mark. Sadly, this has a major impact on the audience’s enjoyment of the rest of the movie which, once it picks up is actually quite good. Of particular note are the galley and chariot races scenes, the former being what is likely to be a very authentic depiction of the terrible conditions that slaves were forced to endure and the latter, is incredibly exciting, keeping you on the edge of your seat until the bitter end.
What the movie does do well is the motivations of the characters. Each of them, but particularly Messala, are believable in their actions and decisions. Judah’s feelings of betrayal and obsession with revenge are realistic and the close proximity they all share with the powerful presence of Jesus is pivotal to what ultimately happens to both of them. It is a shame that Jesus and his teachings are portrayed in such a lightweight and twee way; in particular, the casting of Brazilian actor, Rodrigo Santoro, seems to be mostly about his looks than anything else. Disappointingly, even though in recent years it is more widely accepted that Jesus would have looked very ordinary and typical of the time, Santoro personifies the traditional, overly ‘beautiful’, ethereal look; this movie had the chance to change this misconception but chose not to, making it difficult to take seriously now and ensuring that it will date very quickly.
With many pros and cons to the movie, it is up to the individual to decide whether the rather dull first part is worth enduring for the rest which is good (but not exactly perfect). It is most likely to appeal to those who enjoy a good ‘swords and sandals’ epic but with good characterisations and some fantastic action sequences, the drama will pull in even more fans but the negatives of the slow pace and often twee moments may well outweigh the positives.
IS ‘BEN-HUR (2016)’ SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN?
There are numerous instances throughout the movie where horses are badly injured or killed due to racing or being used in large-scale battles. They are normally shown to suddenly fall as the camera continues to move so little suffering is actually seen in these moments, however the speeds that the horses are moving at make it very clear that they will likely be killed. The chariot race is where most of the horse deaths occur and these are somewhat more graphic with some being crashed into, trampled and falling over, however again, this is mostly done with quick camera cuts and little blood.
Both established and incidental characters are injured, either having the injury inflicted on-screen or the being shown afterwards. Some blood is seen on heads/faces but rarely becomes overly gory. One man has clearly been badly beaten, his eye is swollen, there is blood on his face and his breathing is ragged from pain. There are battle scenes where people are killed with swords and arrows, in another scene, a man is hit in the neck with a flaming arrow and several others are set on fire after being doused with tar, however even though these injuries are shown in full, little blood or suffering is shown. There are numerous other similar moments of violence but as they are no stronger than these instances we will not list them all, there are however a few stronger moments which we will describe in further detail below.
One character is shown to have received a bad injury to his arm; in order to save his life, another character puts a rope into their mouth to bite down on and then cauterises the wound with a heated blade. The character screams into his gag and convulses in pain. Although this is shot mostly in darkness, there are close-ups of the large gaping wound which bleeds profusely. The character is clearly in a great deal of pain, groaning and grimacing throughout.
A young man explains what happened to his family saying that his father was killed and ‘(my) mother was fertile so they did other things to her’. A woman is punched had in the face, causing her to fall heavily to the floor.
The galley scene may be upsetting for some children due to the harsh treatment of slaves, the terrible conditions they are forced to work in for many years, the brutal punishments meted out by the slave masters including whippings and killings just to ‘motivate’ the others and the casualness of the fates of those unfortunate enough to be on a sinking ship.
A man is seen to be strapped to the front of ship, he screams in terror as the ship approaches another to ram into its side. As this ship hits the other, a huge spray of bloody water is thrown towards the screen indicating that the man has been crushed and killed.
There are numerous deaths throughout the chariot scene, one man is dragged under a chariot for around five seconds, the camera shows his face as he screams and after he falls free, he is trampled under the hooves of several horses. Another is slammed against a stone wall while travelling at a high-speed, his helmet is thrown off and his head scrapes against the wall, some blood is seen before the chariot is crashes.
A man is forced to walk through streets while carrying a heavy wooden cross, he is bleeding from his head and he is clearly suffering a great deal. He stumbles and falls to the floor, he is forced back to his feet and another man is stopped from helping him and giving him some water. This harsh punishment and the man’s suffering is likely to be upsetting for children.
CAN I SEE A CLIP?
A disappointing attempt at an epic which doesn’t live up to the standards of its predecessor, this version of ‘Ben-Hur’ shows flashes of brilliance but struggles to get away from its slow start. Due to a lot of historical violence, much of which does not become too strong, we feel this movie should be appropriate for most kids aged ten and over.
- Violence: 4/5
- Emotional Distress: 2/5 (a character is told that his family have been brutally killed, he mourns for them but this does not become to distressing)
- Fear Factor: 3/5 (a family are seized by Roman soldiers and are forced to the floor while they wait to discover their fate. As this could result in death for them, this becomes very tense)
- Bad Language: 1/5 (some mild blasphemy)
- Dialogue: 2/5 (several innocent people (or those who have committed minor crimes) are sentenced to the brutal punishment of crucifixion. A man tells of a person who he cared deeply for had his ‘throat slit like a hog’)
- Other Notes: Deals with themes of betrayal, revenge, familial love, loyalty, the desire to explore ones heritage, ambition, protecting and caring for those who are less fortunate than yourself, understanding the motivations of others, redemption, the origins of Christianity and the brutality of the Romans.
Words by Laura Record