Whatever your thoughts may be on the William Wyler classic, Ben-Hur as a concept is inspiring. Such a wide scope and overwhelming need to impress lead to a lengthy battle between director and script. Adapting the Lew Wallace novel for the big-screen is no small feat, and clocking in at nearly four hours is to be expected. Bringing the story of this titular character under the wing of Hollywood marks another entry to the epics of cinema, the lengthy titans that have cultivated a long-lost art form. Ben-Hur stands shoulder to shoulder with Lawrence of Arabia, Gone with the Wind and Edvard Munch as truly rewarding experiences, with the cast and crew on top form throughout.
Wyler hits the peak of his career with this one, with such a strong repertoire under his belt already, it is truly amazing to see him reach the highs delivered here. A compelling style brings life to a script peppered with emotive dialogue. His unmoving camera, the static shot composition of clear and simple cuts is effective and far more impactful than the swooping styles and jagged editing process of modern-day products. The simplicity is engaging, depicting the story of Judah Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston), fighting in the name of Christ in the time of the Roman Empire and its aversion to such a man. This eponymous lead spirals him and his family into tragedy, slavery and eventual redemption, the chance to prove he is both innocent and just. Such brilliance from Heston allows for the narrative to flow with ease, and gives us a keen view of the faith his character holds for much of his imprisonment.
This devotion is found elsewhere also, with supporting performances leaving a lasting impression on the complexity of our leading man. Heston provides the main core, radiating such intense energy to the cast that surround him. Jack Hawkins and Hugh Griffith in particular make for extraordinarily strong components. Quintus Arrius (Hawkins) give Ben-Hur the beginnings of his redemptive arc, and Ildirim (Griffith) who supports him with the tools necessary to vindicating his family and himself. Great chemistry between everyone involved here allows the fine wordplay to flow through with a prose unrivalled at this time of filmmaking. There are strands of storytelling here that don’t amount to much, the film would run just fine if they had been omitted, but their inclusion gives us the moral and historical setting so justly deserved.
Wholly meritorious of its lengthy running time, Ben-Hur crafts an intense story of revenge, padding out its running time with glorious set design, mesmerising supporting performers and a leading man who shows charm and conviction with such grand consistency. Iconic moments of film history are littered throughout, all the makings of a rewarding classic. With chariot races, a surprising amount of action and superb character development throughout, Ben-Hur expectedly leaves its mark on history, with an overwhelmingly brilliant cast and crew leading the charge.