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Post-apocalyptic fiction has been a mainstay of the literacy scene since Mary Shelley’s The Last Man and this has lead onto other novels such as The Stand, Ridley Walker, Children of Men and The Road and films like the Mad Max Trilogy, Wall-E and 28 Days Later. Now the Hughes Brothers have attempted the genre after a nine-year hiatus from directing.
Thirty years after a war, America has become a desert wasteland with cannibals and rapists roaming the vast space. Eli (Mr. Cool himself, Denzel Washington) has been on a personal mission to go west. He has a secret book and he is prepared to give his life to protect it. Luckily, he has a wide range of knives, guns, a bow and arrows and his personal martial arts skills.
Whilse stopping at a ramshackle town, Eli runs into Carnegie (Gary Oldman), the self appointed mayor with ambitions to restart civilization. After discovering Eli has the book he was looking for, Carnegie and all his men attempt to take it from the mysterious figure. With the aid of a young woman named Solara (the woeful Mila Kunis), Eli continues on his mission westward whilse avoiding the mass force of Carnegie.
Cynics may see The Book of Eli basically as The Road for stupid people. Although of course it can not match the quality of The Road, The Book of Eli still sets out to be an interesting movie, using religion as the basis of a political ideology and showing how in the wrong hands, religion can easily be manipulated to keep political control: a very contemporary theme about religious extremism in all faiths. But the screenwriter Gary Whitta sets out also to show a more positive aspects of religion and faith, how it gave Eli solace and a purpose. It is easy for writers and directors to either show one side or another; Whitta and the Hughes brothers at least tried to be more balanced.
Whilse the film does attempt to be a bit more intelligent, there is a lack of originality in other areas. The story of the film is very much a cross between Mad Max: Road Warrior and Max Max: Beyond Thunderdome and the style is much like the classic A Fistful of Dollars. The cinematography of Don Burgess gives the film an effective washed-out look and the Hughes Brothers set out to take a gritty view, showing this was a dirty and dusty world. He avoids the camp approach of the Mad Max trilogy.
The film does, however, drag at times and there is a sequence with Michael Gambon and Frances de la Tour which was played for laughs. It did not fit with the rest of the film. 10 to 15 minutes could have been cut and the screenplay did need some fine tuning, but the potential is there.
The action direction of the Hughes Brothers is the best feature in The Book of Eli. They bring in some really slick style to the action and edit it well. The Hughes Brothers film fight scenes with continuous shots where we actually get to see the action for a change. It is refreshing to see an action film that does not use MTV-style editing or the over use of shaky cam (I’m looking at you, Paul Greengrass). There are delicious moments like when the camera follows the physical grenades, bullets and the action as they move in a shootout. The Hughes Brothers show ambition when directing the action compared to directors like Michael Bay and McG who just throw everything at the camera. Some of the CGI was a little ropey, but it is far from being the worst use of special effects in a film.
With Washington and Oldman in the leading roles, the film was always going to be some strong acting caliber. Washington was good as always, with great conviction and cool under pressure at times while showing off action hero skills at others. It is also fun to see an older action hero. Oldman does his usual villainous performance similar to those in Leon: The Professional, The Fifth Element and Air Force One. Carnegie did seem to bring out a young Jack Nicholson quality in him.
But the rest of the cast was weak. Kunis has good comic timing in Family Guy and That ’70s Show, her performance in The Book of Eli was very wooden and bland. She was able to bring out no emotion in her character and was unbelievable as young woman looking for a way out of Carnegie’s town and become an woman of action.
The Book of Eli
Directed by: Albert and Allen Hughes
Written by: Gary Whitta
Starring: Denzel Washington, Mila Kunis, Gary Oldman
Other Player Affinity Reviews:
Steven thought: “Although written by a first-time screenwriter and former PC Gamer editor, Gary Whitta, “Eli” impressively creates this post-apocalyptic world that while not an original idea has its own distinctive features, and he places Eli squarely in the story. Where the plot comes in is the weak link. The fillm doesn’t try too hard to hide just what exactly the book is and that sort of dissolves some of the film’s mystique. As for the Hughes Brothers, there’s a style and grace to their action scenes — they create a sort of a moving tableau in some scenes and execute a wide range of tempos in the action sequences to make them more intense. Some people are going to be more surprised and impressed with the film’s big reveal than others, but anyone with a love of action and that post-apocalyptic context will find something to make “Eli” a worthwhile watch regardless of plot weakness.” Rating: 7/10
Dinah thought: “The Book of Eli is a well-made religious allegory fashioned as a dramatic action film. It won’t be the most amazing film of 2010, though it is much better than the average throwaway release. The story focuses on a man named Eli walking (and killing) his way across the United States after a war and natural disaster has left the earth with few people. For once a studio created a movie that doesn’t rely on gratuitous foul language to make its bad guy seem tough. The directors used a dust filled landscape and raw, though not graphic, depictions of the depravity that would ensue if there were no rule of law.” Rating: 6/10
Player Affinity Composite Rating: 6.6/10