— by MARIUSZ ZUBROWSKI —
Post-apocalyptic films commonly use a bleak representation of the world to illustrate a political message. Besides an occasional “Oh, God” blurted out by one of its leads, it’s rare for a director to look at a nuclear wasteland through a religious lens. An even rarer circumstance is when it’s done maturely. Directed by the Hughes brothers, “The Book of Eli” is like a street-preacher: it takes itself too seriously and thus provokes more chuckles than genuine discussion.
“The Book of Eli” is set in the same post-apocalyptic United States that Hollywood has grown to love throughout the last couple months and follows Eli — a Jesus-esque swords-master/firearm virtuoso who is heading west for a reason that he keeps secret until the third act. However, Eli is not like Man from “The Road,” he has a powerful weapon besides his sharpened blade — a book and it is the key behind his journey. However, on a short stop at a town of survivors, Eli makes enemies with the mayor, Carnegie, who wants to use the book for his own selfish purposes.
I usually consider the first films of the year to be an indicator of what is ahead. Just like “Daybreakers,” which was released the previous weekend, “The Book of Eli” continues a trend of films that add originality to their milked subject-matters. The plot is very enjoyable, but it suffers from two problems. The first being that it’s hard to take it seriously when you have an antagonist as eccentric as Carnegie; it worked well in “The Dark Knight” but it doesn’t work quite as well as it could in “The Book of Eli.” The second problem is that it seems like the Hughes brothers ran out of stream during the third act. The film starts off with great stylized action and a sense of mystery, but as the ending nears, it just seems to far-fetched even for a movie like this. It also doesn’t help that Solara, who is played by Mila Kunis, has more screen-time than Eli does during the third act.
The acting isn’t terribly good but it isn’t bad either. Denzel Washington doesn’t give a performance of the same caliber as in “Training Day” but more in line with “John Q” (which I think wasn’t that bad). But it’s still enjoyable to see him during the over-blown fight sequences. However, the stand-out star is Gary Oldman, though his performance deviates from the film’s seriousness, it’s still fun to watch his performance as the uncompromising Carnegie. On the supporting actress spectrum, Kunis gives a boring performance but it’s probably because the script gives her character no flexibility.
Without spoiling too much, the question of the film is simple. Is religion a positive or negative aspect of society? I’d rather not delve deeper into this since it would only serve to spoil key plot-points and they are the reason why “The Book of Eli” is fun even though a lot of potential is wasted on the third act. But however loosely everything is tied up, there are no glaring plot-holes and that is also worth praise.
The fact that none of the violence seems forced is also worth mentioning as a lot of these films throw out cohesive story-telling in order to add mindless blood and gore. In all, the Hughes brothers do a surprisingly good job with “The Book of Eli” making it a worthwhile revisit to the ravaged wasteland of the post-apocalyptic USA.
— Click here for eleven clips from “The Book of Eli.” —
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