Somewhere, someone owes Morgan Freeman $20. Because someone was foolish enough to bet Hollywood’s sagest actor that he couldn’t land roles in both the Ben-Hur remake and the pot-smoking teddy bear sex comedy in the span of 36 hours. And Freeman has proved this poor fool wrong. At least, that’s what I assume has happened.
Here’s the news, which brings us the first official cast member for the latest adaptation of Lew Wallace’s classic Christian novel: Deadline announced that Freeman has come aboard Timur Bekmambetov’s remake-stravaganza. He is playing Ildarin, the sheik who instructs Judah Ben-Hur in the ways of chariot racing. It’s most definitely a “wise old man” role, but that fits Freeman to a T – after all, he is our nation’s foremost expert in dispensing time-tested wisdom and then chuckling to himself, softly.
It’s been said roughly six billion times that doing a Ben-Hur remake is some kind of film blasphemy (although it might just be following the example set when Exodus: Gods and Kings stepped on the toes of another Charlton Heston religious epic). Even though the Ben-Hur everyone knows was actually a remake of a 1925 silent Ben-Hur. Which, in turn, was based on a 1907 film reel, which was based on a book. Plus it was already redone as an animated feature in 2003 and a mini-series in 2010. So it’s not as though remakes have no precedence here.
But casting Freeman is a Freeman-level display of wisdom. Even in his worst roles, he’s still basically Morgan Freeman: a charming well of grandfatherly learning and old man style. This has never been a negative thing, for any movie, ever. You can’t argue with Freeman in a religious epic. Guy’s got gravitas for days, and gravitas is what you need in Ben-Hur. And just as importantly, this gives us an opportunity to hear him speak in the even more gravitas-drenched words of ancient Egyptians. Freeman doesn’t often go for the period stuff, and when he does it’s usually for the Civil War (also Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, once). Freeman, clad in a sheik’s dress, saying “Judahhhh Ben-Hur” all Egyptian-like is something the world desperately needs.
And if Ben-Hur can nail down Tom Hiddleston as the titular Jewish prince, as Paramount, MGM and Bekmambetov have been trying to do, they’ll be two for two in casting. Bekmambetov as director is less reassuring. He’s known mostly for flashes of high-concept CGI, such as with Wanted, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and a few Russian vampire flicks.