The Book of Eli (2010)

29 Mar


Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

(Originally reviewed early 2010)

Is the end of the world really the subject that entertainment wants to thrill us with nowadays? With “Knowing” and “The Road,” movies that feature apocalypse just keep coming. Maybe after filmmakers realize they use too much of that subject in too many movies for one twelve-month period, they’ll get back to other stuff. With “The Book of Eli” and “Legion” seeming to finish off the twelve-month period of end-of-the-world movies, it seems as though the “genre” will be left alone for a long time. But “The Book of Eli” is a good movie—not as strong as “The Road” but not as confusing as “Knowing.” It’s a slick, well-made end-of-the-world Western, if you will.

A cataclysmic event, dubbed as “the war,” obliterated almost everything and everybody on Earth. What exactly happened? I’m not quite sure. I think there was a war that “tore a hole in the sky,” as a character says. How did this war begin and when did it end? I’m not quite sure of that one either. Anyway, 30 years later, survivors of the war try to make their best to survive this wasteland that was once America. Everything is valuable now, especially water. Everyone has to wear sunglasses because of the sun’s new rotation or brightness, or whatever. Some survivors, just like in “The Road,” have stooped to cannibalism. It truly is a mad world.

The main character is a man who should be called Eli (Denzel Washington) but strangely enough, we hardly ever hear his name. But since the movie is titled “The Book of Eli,” we are forced to refer to this man as Eli. He’s a mysterious traveler who walks nonstop, heading West where he believes that the last King James Bible, which he has in his possession and reads from time to time, will be safe from others who would use it to manipulate other people in this damaged world for the worse. Oh yeah, and Eli is also handy with a knife. In one scene in the beginning, he takes down a whole band of thugs with just ten seconds. He has also been heading West for a number of years, saying he walks by faith and not by sight. In that case, maybe he only thought he was heading West all these years.

Well, as it turns out, there is someone out to take possession of the King James Bible and has been looking for it since everyone burned them all during the war. This is Carnegie (Gary Oldman), the ruler of a Western town who, of course, has his own band of thugs by his side, including a bald muscleman and a scrawny wise guy. When Eli walks through this town and is given hospitality by Carnegie, it isn’t long before the Bible is discovered and a bloodbath is sure to be drawn for it.

Carnegie is an evil man but played by Oldman as a calm dictator who isn’t broad in a way that we wouldn’t believe he could possibly do such deeds. He is also married to a blind, abused woman named Claudia (Jennifer Beals) who wasn’t blinded by the war but was born this way and was in some way, lucky when the event occurred. Carnegie abuses Claudia to control her daughter Solara (Mila Kunis), who is a prostitute in Carnegie’s bar. Solara later accompanies Eli in his neverending quest to bring the Bible to safety. And there, they meet two characters who are as strange and deluded as anybody in “The Road”—a husband-and-wife survivalist couple named George and Martha.

But more on them when you watch the movie, which is bold, inventive, and powerful. It’s also phenomenal in the ways of the performances by the actors. Denzel Washington is at the top of his game here as Eli. He plays this complicated, mysterious person with the right note and with a great deal of edginess. Washington is great in this movie and Gary Oldman is brilliant as the villain, with a fine line between calmness and irrationality. I should also give special notice to the performances by Mila Kunis and Jennifer Beals, both of which carry the best performances of their individual careers.

Now, the final half of this movie is a bit flawed and sort of uneasy to follow. It also carries one of the most surprising plot twists in recent memory. But directed by the Hughes Brothers, who previously directed “Menace II Society,” it’s very well-made and the cinematography is suitably bleak, just like the scenes that followed in “The Book of Eli.”

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