I knew it.
I just knew, immediately after watching the first released trailer for “The Book of Eli” that I was going to hate this film. From the first shot shown of Denzel Washington walking in worn, layered rags, I thought that this was just another version of “the crapfest” known as Kevin Costner’s “The Postman.” I remember even shaking my head and saying to myself, “Oh Denzel, why?”
I was disappointed. I was shocked. I was irritated.
And, I was wrong.
Directed by Albert and Allen Hughes (Menace II Society, Dead Presidents From Hell), The Book of Eli is a methodically, mature telling of one man’s mission through faith. Set in a post-apocalyptic America, the film follows Eli (Washington) in his quest to protect and deliver the last remaining copy of the King James Bible to somewhere in the west. After 30 years of walking, the end is almost near and all around him are the scavengers, survivors and families trying to scrape a living after the “big flash.”
Society is hanging by a thread.
Taking advantage of that thread is Carnegie (Gary Oldman), the ruler of a small town where he and his thugs control everything through force and fear. Coincidentally, Carnegie has been sending search parties out looking for a Bible, because, like Eli, he was around before the “big flash” and understands the power of what faith will give him over the lost leftovers of mankind. Thus their paths are intertwined.
I’m not sure if impressive is the correct word to use to describe this film, but the quality of the story acting and production were all top notch. The Hughes Brothers have successfully taken a landscape and allowed themselves to make something, while not incredibly original, very interesting. Nothing in their vision of tomorrow is untouched by the evils of society and, while maybe falling into some fashion clichés, holds true to what they were trying to deliver.
I was most impressed by the way all the main and sub-characters were handled. Each, while holding true to their cultural context and their roots in the bible, were very well-rounded and had a true purpose for being involved. I was especially happy that Mila Kunis’ character, Solara was not the generic damsel in distress just along for the ride. She had knowledge, survival skills and a reason for falling into Eli’s life. At the same time, you have to give Ray Stevenson a lot of credit for his portrayal of Carnegie’s right hand enforcer. Steveson is big and menacing and it would have so easy for him to fall into stereotypical heavy role. Instead we get a small voice of reason in Carnegie’s obsession with his own desires and qualities of a person trying to enforce order amongst chaos.
At the same time, I really appreciated the pace of the film. While I am not an extremely big fan of slow moving films, the pace helped the audience stay intrigued, interested and asking what was coming next. This is especially true when, as the film winds up, everything comes into focus, and you realize all the subtle clues that were in front of you along the way.
What I did not like was the ending. Not because it didn’t make sense and not because it was poorly handled, but because of what it says about our overall society and our western culture. Eli’s mission is to protect and deliver the word of the Lord to somewhere safe and while I will not go into the actual events of the film and spoil them for you, I was disappointed on where the word is placed. That’s all I’ll say.
Overall, The Book of Eli is a surprisingly well-acted, high-quality, cool film. Washington and Oldman do their usual best and while I think it will be easy for some to find it’s flaws, I am sure you won’t be disappointed with the experience.
3 out of 5 sets of Sunglasses