The Book of Eli is the latest, and drabbest, in the post-apocalypse, and it is based on an interesting idea which, sadly, wound up buried under a pile of recognizable plot points topped off with a hammy-handed take on religion.
Review by SAndman
September 5, 2010
Albert Hughes and Allen Hughes
Denzel Washington as Eli
Gary Oldman as Carnegie
Jennifer Beals as Claudia
Mila Kunis as Solara
Michael Gambon as George
Eli: People had more than they needed. We had no idea what was precious and what wasn’t. We threw away things people kill each other for now.
Furthermore, as an attempt to put a lighter touch, read action-packed sequences with Denzel Washington sporting an assortment of custom-made weapons, on the dreary, and occasionally unbearably depressing (did you see The Road?), the theme of life in the post-apocalyptic future, it is a rather mixed bag, which, simply put, leaves you wanting for more.
The plot features Eli, a lonely, strong and silent type, a latter-day version of Shane. The kind of guy who never looks for trouble, but, being a six and two walking cabinets, blessedly basking in charisma, rounded off with a touch of mystery, which this time comes in the form of an enigmatic and temptingly precious book he carries, trouble naturally finds him.
The trouble takes the not-too-subtle guise of a roving bunch of bikers, dirty and smelly, and damned with an insufferably bad sense of timing, who, under orders of Carnegie, the local strongman and wannabe dictator, scour the countryside looting and killing.
This is a world in which the artifacts of the past civilization are in great demand and are bartered for food and water. Especially rare and valuable are books, which were burned and destroyed in the aftermath of the cataclysm by people who blamed the knowledge contained in them for their predicament.
Among books, there is one which has a special value because it wields great power over human hearts and minds.
Power junkie that he is, Carnegie seeks this book, and the moment he and Eli cross paths he realizes Eli has the book in his possession. The inevitable showdown ensues, and it takes a better, and admittedly long-drawn-out, half of the movie.
Unfortunately, lots of stuff you’ll see in The Book of Eli are all too familiar staples of the post-apocalypse, from the blasted landscape to the ramshackle towns, to the home-grown cannibals, to the petty tyrants bent on domination, and the hero protected from the ubiquitous depravity by an unerring moral compass and state-of-the-art weaponry (martial arts, too, always come in handy).
With not a tiny chink in his armor, barring a very subtly foreshadowed physical impairment, the only thing that prevents Eli from coming across as a self-righteous drag is Washington’s, some might call it, a low key, and some (myself included), stodgily professional, take.
If Eli is something of a bloodless hero, Oldman’s Carnegie is an equally un-visceral villain.
He is never really a test for Eli’s rectitude. Only for the hero’s stamina and skill to withstand the attacks of Carnegie’s puny henchmen. In his usual role of a baddie, Oldman turns his character into something of a calculating CEO, running the local thugs with a rod of steel and the old world knowledge mystique.
By comparison, Jennifer Beals and Mila Kunis take to go a long way toward creating, if not exactly memorable than surely lovable characters; the crispily taut Beals and edgy-firecracker-in-the-barn Kunis definitely turned The Book of Eli into ladies’ sweepstakes.
Especially jarring in The Book of Eli are the authors’ efforts to squeeze a deeper religious meaning out of Eli’s escapades and turn the machete-wielding meat-grinder of the hero into a man with a higher mission.
All in all, The Book of Eli would do much better with the help of a more thoughtful script, more fully fleshed-out characters, and a smidgen of originality. On the flip side, if you decide to give the movie a try you might get something of a crash course on the post-apocalyptic subgenre as you’ll find all the topical ingredients here.
And you might even pick up a few tips for surviving in the post-apocalyptic wilderness – not the least of which is, why you should beware of the people coming out of the desert if they have shaky hands.