BOOK OF ELI, THE
Sometime in the near future, a lone Eli (Denzel Washington), walks Westward across the dangerous, gang-infested wasteland that America has become, carrying his weapons and a backpack which contains a large old bible. He arrives at a ramshackle outpost in what used to be California, a town controlled by the tyrannical Carnegie (Gary Oldman), whose illiterate henchmen are ordered to bring him any book they find as he searches for the one book that will give him the power he seeks. Eli befriends Carnegie's stepdaughter Solara (Mila Kunis) and learns of Carnegie's plan to take control of the entire region by fear and brutal force - and the book. Eli escapes with Carnegie and his men in pursuit, towards the shattered ruins of San Fransisco - and Eli realizes his destiny, to protect the one book that holds the power to save mankind.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
This post apocalyptic movie is a strange amalgam of spiritual fundamentalism with the bible at its heart, and the lone stranger action thriller that could be a Western. (He does indeed go West, and has done for 30 years ... on foot.) The novelty factor keeps the film afloat and us engaged for the first half, as Eli (Denzel Washington), treks through the dead landscape of a land that's turned to dust, the only animal is a hairless cat (which he shoots with his bow and arrow) and gutted cars line broken roads, with the sky in permanent mourning. The gangs who roam the emptiness look strangely familiar - perhaps they're the cast from apocalyptic movies past: ugly and hairy and dressed in designer-torn rags ... the sense of déjà vu is heightened by the entire production design and CGI work of cleverly dilapidated buildings (such as that remain).
The screenplay offers a variety of options for the state of America (and by implication the rest of the world): at one point Eli refers to a big hole in the sky and the sun burning everything. But there is also reference made to 'the war'; and at another point, he suggests that this book he's carried for 30 years had something to do with the war, too. So take your pick: solar flare, climate change or a clash of civilisations.
A sense of heavy handed earnestness weigh the film down, with meaningful close ups of Denzel's determined and decent face. He is doing God's work. And God has armed him well, with a knife that would make Crocodile Dundee flinch, a shotgun and a handgun, as well as that deadly bow and arrow. A lesson in packing economy, considering how little he carries - including the massive bible. Travellers won't be able to pick up any hints, though, because we never see where he puts all these things.
It being America, there is still plenty of fuel for the monster vehicles used by the bad guys and limitless ammo for the enormous cache of weaponry in use, even in this decaying and foodless, waterless world.
As to why Carnegie (Gary Oldman in sneering evil mode) wants that book so badly, we never really find out, except that he believes it has great powers. The trouble is this is conveyed in the same 'evil megalomaniac' fashion that a spoof of a James Bond story might have it. As to why it has to be lugged around the country when .... But I won't spoil that one for you, should you be fascinated enough to catch this self conscious and mostly silly movie, which ends in such a cliché.
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BOOK OF ELI, THE (MA)
CAST: Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis, Ray Stevenson, Jennifer Beals, Evan Jones, Joe Pingue, Frances de la Tour, Michael Gambon, Tom Waits, Chris Browning,
PRODUCER: Broderick Johnson, Andrew A. Kosove, Joel Silver, David Valdes, Denzel Washington
DIRECTOR: The Hughes Brothers
SCRIPT: Gary Whitta
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Don Burgess
EDITOR: Cindy Mollo
MUSIC: Atticus Ross, Leopold Ross, Claudia Sarne
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Gae Buckley
RUNNING TIME: 117 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Sony
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 15, 2010