STARRING: Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman,
Mila Kunis, Ray Stevenson, Jennifer Beals, Evan Jones
2010, 118 Minutes, Directed by:
Allen Hughes, Albert Hughes
exactly can be written about The Book of Eli without giving away critical
parts of the story is a source of personal frustration . . .
Releasing studio Warner
Brothers has politely asked film critics to refrain from spoiling the ending of
the movie, a request I will happily honor.
However, there’s much to Book of
Eli that requires potential killjoy description, so I beg your patience, dear
reader. I apologize in advance if this review seems uncharacteristically vague
and protective of the actual film-going experience. I’m under orders and frankly,
the mysteries here are interesting enough to preserve.
Thirty years after “the flash,” the
world has been stripped of its natural glory. Walking through the ashen,
UV-drenched aftermath is Eli (Denzel Washington), a loner in possession of book
he’s compelled to bring to the West. Dispatching troublemakers along the way,
Eli makes a supply stop at a town of questionable habitation, run by Carnegie
(Gary Oldman), a literate leader who rules the few remaining natural resources
left to plunder.
Looking for the very book in Eli’s possession, Carnegie hunts
the warrior through the wasteland with his henchmen (including Ray Stevenson),
while Eli picks up a partner in the form of a young woman named Solara (Mila
Kunis), who’s desperate to know the contents of the book and learn the ways of
self-preservation that have kept Eli alive through horrible circumstances.
The Book of Eli marks the
return to the directorial chair for Allen and Albert Hughes, the former
wunderkinds who last haunted theaters with their 2001 Jack the Ripper stinker,
From Hell. From the opening titles, it’s clear that the Hughes Brothers
have matured since their camera-trick heavy years with Menace II Society
and Dead Presidents, putting forth a more meditative effort with Book of
Eli, which deals with spirituality and cold-blooded survival in a bleak
post-apocalyptic world of raw desperation.
"Book of Eli cribs wholeheartedly from previous
Though it cribs wholeheartedly
from previous end-of-the-world movies (think of the film as a
cross between The Road, The Postman and
A Boy and His Dog), the Hughes Brothers
craft a compellingly abrasive tone of moral manipulation to embellish the
traditional maneuvers of violence, as Eli defends his secret tomb from would-be
thieves and crusty scoundrels.
Crossing the land armed with a machete, taking
solace in the occasional KFC wet-nap bath and the infrequent charge of his
shattered MP3 player (along with developing a taste for cat meat), Eli isn’t so
much a wandering recluse as he is a man on a mission, facing a world of
marauders and cannibals (a taste spotted by a quaking of the hands) who stand in
his path toward unspecified salvation. Book of Eli finds an appropriate downbeat
tone of decimated humanity, framed and monochromatically color-timed in the
manner of a graphic novel to ease the audience into what will eventually reveal
itself to be a stream of ambiguity that takes the entire 120 minute running time
to properly lay out for inspection.
The book in question is
representative of both unfettered evil and reassuring containment, and
screenwriter Gary Whitta works in a superior amount of anxiety on both sides of
the coin, showing Eli’s dogged determination and hinting at Carnegie’s sinister
plans of mind-control.
It’s a clever script that turns faith into a game of
sorts, with only one possible pawn at play, but it’s a time-tested doozy of an
upper hand once under complete control. The Hughes Brothers tart up the thematic
lunge with a fitting display of bloodshed and shoot-outs, though they
unfortunately lose their nerve and indulge in a cringe-worthy attack sequence of
swirling camerawork and editing magic - a rotten remnant of their mid-90’s
film-brat bravado that stands out like a sore thumb in a picture of such
Where Book of Eli ends up is a
place of probable controversy and purposeful misdirection, sure to divide
audiences sensitive to such matters of soulful purpose. I’m not certain the
shell-game resolution is worth the journey, but the picture is satisfactorily
atmospheric and often challenging, perhaps even unintentionally chilling in its
closing statement of devotion.