Ben Hur Review - Grand, Powerful, A Sure Winner

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Ben-Hur, from Paramount Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, presents the epic story of two brothers and their fight against position and circumstance, against betrayal and binding love, against consuming anger and forgiveness, against loyalty, hope of healing and the power of redemption.

Directed by Timur Bekmambetove, Ben-Hur stars Jack Huston, Toby Kebbell, Morgan Freeman, Nazanin Boniadi, Ayelet Zurer, Sofia Black-D’Elia, Pilow Asbaek, and Rodrigo Santoro as Jesus. Ben-Hur was written by Keith R. Clarke and John Ridley based on the novel Lew Wallace.

Ben-Hur opens with a pan of the Roman Coliseum, an historic bloodsport battle, a no holds barred, no boundaries, a winner take all, leaving no survivors, with only one winner. The flash is moment as the scene returns to a previous time, five years earlier when two brothers, the Prince Judah Ben-Hur, played by Jack Huston and his adoptive brother Messala, played by Toby Kebbell, were friends, competitors, family.

The two, Judah and Messala, on horseback, racing at breakneck speed, as each challenges the other they hit the open field charging, blazing fast when an accident fells Judah. Messala, devoted to his brother, carries him back to their home and waits outside his room throughout the night, praying to the Gods of Rome, waiting for a word on his condition.

Judah wakes and as the family celebrates. Messala, pulled by the need to have his own identity, and not the orphan brother of the Prince, even with the pleasure and privilege the house of Ben-Hur offers, the need to be his own man is greater, as he explains to a stunned Judah his decision to join the Roman Army. 

Over the protests of his family, Messala leaves the family and over the next five years fights in bloody battle after bloody battle. He rises in the ranks, a self-made man, becomes the Pride of Rome. One day, he returns. With the pleasure of genuine affection, he is given a princely welcome.

Considering his devotion and rank in the Roman Army, he approaches Judah and explains his precarious situation. He must secure safe passage for Pontius Pilate, played by Pilow Asbaek,  through Jerusalem. Now as the two stand eye to eye, each holding rank within their own spheres, the sword of Rome holds the power and Judah puts his word on the line and guarantees safe passage.

As the massive army marches through the town, the narrow cobblestone streets are filled with the Roman Army, Pontius Pilate and his garrison are slowly making their way through the town, a wayward anarchist manages to shoot an arrow.

The army, a ticking time bomb, waiting for any reason to unleash hells fury upon the locals and suddenly with the speed of a single wayward arrow they have it. Chaos breaks out, the House of Ben-Hur is charged with sedition, attempted murder. Believing in Messala, brother and son, they all, Mother, sister, Judah, plead attempting to reason against the insanity of the falsehood charged they are sentenced to death.

Separated, as Judah walks the Viva Del Rosa, a foretelling of the Christ, he is meet by Jesus, played by Rodrigo Santoro, who offers the now defrocked prince a cool drink of water and with assuredness explains God has a plan for him. It will be five long, torturous, deeply wounding, painful years before the two would meet again.

It is also five years before Judah meets the one, Ilderim, played by Morgan Freeman, who becomes instrumental in reuniting the House of Ben-Hur. And five years before he meets Messala, the Pride of Rome, who sentenced him to death and believed he was dead, to exact his revenge.

I really enjoyed Ben-Hur. This is one of the rare instances I screened a film with a general public audience, and as the end credits began to roll, I paused, waiting and was genuinely happy as the audience reaction mirrored my own and they spontaneously began applauding.

The difficulty in remarking anything is the comparison factor and as the filmmakers decided to squelch that possibility right out of the gate by upping the game into the 3D realm it essentially stopped any assessment, compare or contrast. Ben-Hur is a sure winner.

The 3-D effects, are so very crisp, and stunningly sharp, one can almost feel the spray as the horses kick up the dirt during the races. State of the art sound has thunder rolling during the key chariot race scenes, the fights and torture. The filmmakers took something special and enhanced, or modernized, it creating a second golden nugget.

Audiences may not have any concern for the story, and the foretelling of Christianity or other Biblical references, and the filmmakers managed not to allow that portion of the story to become the focus outside of the small intersections. The script is on point, without straying other than by face value, into the story of the crucifixion.

Ben-Hur has a poignant message that resonates for those who have religious beliefs or those who do not. It is produced by husband and wife Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, both who profess Christian faith. The film doesn’t stray from the horrors of the Roman Empire, especially in their bloodsport games.

Ben-Hur is a larger-than-life, ambitious story, grand in scope, sweeping vistas and emotionally charged. From beginning to end, Ben-Hur is captivating, engaging and shocking. The torture scenes are stinging with authenticity. The enormous coliseum scenes, with dynamic crowd scenes remarkable.

Jack Huston and Toby Kebbell become these characters. They are a royal priesthood, cast into prison, seeking to kill that which injured. The entire cast brings this classic interpretation to life

Ben-Hur pits brother against brother, man against nature, the effects of war against the heart of peace. Impressive! Brilliant and dramatic!

Ben-Hur opens August 19, 2016. See this film is it epic, stunning, a sure winner.

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