January 15, 2010 / by Blake Fehl
The Hughes Brothers have not made a film since 2001’s From Hell starring Johnny Depp, and sometimes their lack of practice shines through in their new film Book of Eli. Their flair and overall filmmaking sense seems to be well enough intact to bring us a pretty strong January release.
Post apocalyptic worlds are all the rage now apparently. You see them everywhere, in books, TV, and video games. Book of Eli contains a pretty similar story to them all, the human race turned on each other which resulted in a great war that killed off much of the population. The survivors hid for the first year, and slowly came out of their bunkers and started to find a way to survive. For some this means feasting on the survivors that come your way, and succumbing to the awful life of a cannibal. For others, you can work for water and food in towns run by little mini dictators much like Carnegie (Gary Oldman), who is looking for a special book that can be used to control the masses. When a strong willed and sharp witted man named Eli comes through town Carnegie tries his best to persuade the man to join him and enjoy the constant supply of water and food the town offers. Eli has a mission of his own, and must keep moving west. Things don’t go as plan when Carnegie finds that Eli is carrying the book he has been looking for since the end of the war. The two men must face off with each other in a battle of God’s will vs. Man’s wil.
In many ways Book of Eli comes off at The Road lite. The lack of food and ammunition to protect yourself with are there, and the cannibalism that comes along with it all. It fluffs it up a bit, and makes the carnage much less scary. The desperation of this society is not felt as deeply, but fortunately you can see it all around. The crumbling highways, the carcasses of old cars, tumbling buildings all make the world of Eli look like the ravaged world it is supposed to be.
Denzel Washington is going to be much of the draw for people here. His authoritative presence allows him to pull off a role that might have seemed silly with another actor. Many lines that Washington speaks would sound cheesy, and a bit over the top in another actors mouth. Washington seems to not question the material and delivers the line with a grateful sincerity that makes his character much more believable.
Gary Oldman, who has seen a bit of a career renissance as of late with roles in both the popular Batman and Harry Potter franchises, is back to what he does best, being an antagonist. Oldman seems to be channeling Jack Nicholson, and has that same wicked smile and a bit of the growl that Nicholson has. It isn’t a bad thing by any means, just seems a bit different than what we are usually given by Oldman. There is no doubt playing a role like this that the man has some versatility.
The other main player of the film is Mila Kunis, who until this point seems to have stuck mainly to comedies (That 70s Show, Extract, Family Guy, etc.), breaks out in her role as a girl who is stuck in the town because her mother is involved with Carnegie. She looks at Washington’s Eli with a bright eyed wonder that he might actually be doing something that is saving the world.
The film is littered with small parts played by big names. Among these is Michael Gambon and Frances de la Tour as the cannibalistic owners of a house on the outside of town, and Tom Waits as the local town engineer. Their parts might be small, but they are memorable and all a bit of fun.
The Hughes Brothers crafted a really good looking post apocalyptic world for their characters to live in. The dialogue would have come off cheesy in most other productions, but luckily the brothers were able to cast actors who can make just about anything sound good. If you are into dystopian and postapocalyptic futures, then this is going to be a must see for you. If you like some action with some very light philosophy, then your probably going to find yourself enjoying this one as well. Don’t expect high art, but the film is fun none the less.
Another Take From Zac:
The Hughes Brothers post-apocalyptic adventure doesn’t bring a whole lot new to the table but has a good lead cast that keeps the film entertaining to a point but will have you scratching your head at the logistics of the film and make you a bit restless with not a whole lot going on.
Following a lone wander, Eli, through the desolated American west he patiently survives day to day, spending his nights reading from a book and only encountering those that are unavoidable. Upon showing up into a little town we are introduced to the boss of the neighborhood, Carnegie, who has gangs pillaging wanders on the road looking for a specific book that we come to figure out is, The Bible. Well it just so happens the book Eli is in possession of is in fact a bible and after a failed bid by Carnegie to charm Eli into turning it over to him so he can use its words to will people to his bidding they end up in a chase on the road west.
Unfortunately for the Hughes Bros. their film is covering quite similar territory to last year’s post-apocalyptic entry, The Road, and it doesn’t come close to touching that films quality. While Eli is a cool and pretty bad ass hero the film settles to be nothing more than a light on the action, action film, with a bit of Christian mysticism thrown in that doesn’t make a lot of sense. Eli is on a mission from God, who has spoken to him according to Eli, and the mission is to protect the book and to head west. His copy of the bible is considered the last one on Earth and he acknowledges that religion was the reason behind the unnamed travesty that led to this apocalypse but the film is a big pusher of the idea that we should save it still. Now our opinions on religion will affect how we view this message, but I mean obviously religion would be the betting man’s pick for the odds on favorite to leading us to an apocalyptic war and you would think that there would be an enlightened view that anyone looking to start over our society would bid good riddance to the hypocrisy, destructiveness, and lies that can be found in all religions. And it’s with this school of thought that the idea of defending this book so badly becomes a bit of a contradiction. Carnegie’s motives make sense and his world view does serve as a slap in the face to religion as he wishes to use it to trick and control the weak minded sheep that the uneducated inhabitants of the world have become, but still the film comes across as rather pro-religion and there are just too many contradictory messages.
Also a lot of the themes touched on in the film I think could have given the picture a more epic feel if they would have dived into them more deeply instead of focusing on this relationship between Eli and a young woman, Solara, who tags along with Eli after he heads out of town. Because sadly that relationship never really works and doesn’t make a lot of sense as it feels like the relationship is introduced for no reason other than the sake of giving Eli someone to interact with. The relationship actually goes against everything Eli stands for as preserving the book and heading West is his apparent God given task. And nothing changes from their time together either other than inspiring Solara to throw out all rational thinking and not do the obvious smart thing to do in the end.
Some people might have quite a problem with a third act revelation as well, but to be quite honest, the logistics surrounding this reveal would actually probably hold up quite well on a second viewing and is one of the high points of the film as I think they probably made it work without really cheating. Also, they never really explain Eli’s skills in combat which would be fine, but this revelation makes it a bit of a stretch if you ask me.
The action in the film is done quite well in the picture as well though there isn’t a whole lot just to forewarn you. In fact if you have seen the trailer, you have seen 75% of the action. Thankfully they have held back on the climatic action sequence which is a lot of fun though the director’s attempt to make it seem like one take isn’t going to trick anyone; still pretty slick though. I will say this, there was way to much standing around and chatting in the picture for the sake of we need to talk when in actuality it would be smartest to blast the fools as they mouth off to you; though I’m not going to worry about that all that much.
The actors in the film all do fine enough work though with Gary Oldman and Denzel Washington performing up to quo with their talents. Denzel plays the wandering Eli and handles the fight scenes with ease and gives Eli a gentle presence that still commands the screen and you know he isn’t one to be f**ked with. Oldman is also in fine form, having a lot of fun and playing the part big without every going over the top. Though I was reminded a bit of his performance in the fifth element here with his sleaziness but he defines Carnegie enough to stand out on his own. Ray Stevenson is also kind of a bad ass as Carnegie’s right hand man and he left me wanting more of him than what we get. Michael Gambon is quite funny and clearly having a blast in his brief appearance though his character and his wife seem a bit to convenient and unnatural to the story. Mila Kunis plays Solara and while she adequately fills the role her part is so pointless and weak she doesn’t get a chance to impress us in almost any way shape or form. Tom Waits does kill in his couple of scenes though, as he usually does, and it might have been nice to have a bit more of him in the picture.
In the end, The Book of Eli is a decent effort that is a bit to contradictory and pointless to be taken too seriously for most of the second half of the film. From the confusing messages, the real lack of story (you could have told this movie in 30 minutes if you wanted), and a lot of head scratching and thoughtless actions by the characters it will try many viewers patience. Luckily it is well acted by a couple of great actors, is quite an impressive film to look at, and is entertaining enough to hold your attention. Just don’t expect things to make a whole lot of sense all the time and that the film is probably a bit to long and pointless at times. I know it sounds like I hate this flick but I was entertained enough to recommend it, but rent The Road when it comes out on Blu-ray, it handles this sort of material a million times better.
The Book of Eli is a C-