The Book of Eli
Dir: Albert and Allen Hughes
If you believe Hollywood, when the apocalypse comes, the world will be a desolate place where marauding gangs wantonly rape and murder the innocent, where small totalitarian regimes rule towns by subjugating the law of supply and demand and where one saintly hero still grasps onto the humanity of life before the crash. Even in high brow dramas like last year’s The Road, Viggo Mortensen’s character clung to a code of ethics that no longer existed in that new world order.
The comparisons between The Road and The Book of Eli will be inevitable, but so will be parallels between Mad Max and video games such as Fallout 3. Directed by the Hughes Brothers, MIA from the film scene since 2001’s From Hell, The Book of Eli unfortunately is deadly serious, and not in a good way. Pious, preachy and predictable, even a stellar cast that includes Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis, Michael Gambon and Tom Waits can’t save this film from becoming a Bible lesson. But not everything is dogma in The Book of Eli. There are some amazing visuals in this grey wasteland as Washington’s badass Eli wanders in search of the proper home of a special book he is carrying. Can you guess which? Although there are obligatory shots of ruined highway ramps, some of landscapes rival anything out of graphic novel-cum-films such as The 300 or Sin City.
The conflict begins once Eli arrives at the town run by the villainous Carnegie (Oldman), a two-bit thug in search of a copy of the Bible so he can harness its power not to only quell the masses, but control them. He already has an iron grasp over the region’s water, yet he still believes (and perhaps the filmmakers do too) that the Bible is more powerful than necessity. So it’s Washington (good) vs. Oldman (bad), demarcated not by nuance but intention.
Though The Book of Eli does contain enough bloodshed to keep the action fan happy, including multiple maimings and beheadings, even this isn’t enough to take away from a thin script. Veteran actors like Gambon, Jennifer Beals, Waits and Malcolm McDowell are positively wasted while the script focuses more on Eli’s reluctant relationship with Solara (Kunis) who is not only unbelievable, but too well groomed to exist in this film’s reality.
Perhaps most infuriating of all is Washington’s character lacks, well, character. His Eli is nothing more than a cipher for Jesus or any other prophet, yet this prophet lacks any temptation: first, middle or last. Even when we learn one final twist about Eli, it is intended to increase his nobility and not shade his characterization. Go see The Road. It may not be fun, but at least doesn’t pander.