For a movie that's plot centers almost entirely around the bible, it's comforting to know that The Book of Eli is not really about religion. The Book of Eli is about faith, and believing. I think it was Ron Glass in the fantastic Serenity that said, "Why when I talk about belief, do you always assume I'm talking about God?" Great line.
Albert and Allen Hughes have an interesting take on what America is going to be like, post-apocaypse. These types of movies always fascinate me. The Hughes Brothers have crafted a world much like an aged, beat down set of an old Clint Eastwood movie. Imagine a Western, dusty tumbleweeds and all, with all kinds of broken cars, fancy new guns, and iPods. Every color we see is a shade of brown or gray. That's what The Hughes Brothers and director of photography Don Burgess have given us in The Book of Eli.
Denzel Washington plays Eli, a mysterious badass with a mysterious purpose. He seems very motivated and full of direction as he walks across the barren landscape of what used to be America, dismembering anyone who makes him angry. But he's not evil. Washington plays Eli as a man who will cut ten people's heads off in a bar, and then share his dinner with a mouse because he thinks it's cute.
The thing is, he has the only bible left in the world. And this gets the attention of Gary Oldman's character Carnegie, who might have the dumbest name for a villain since Iron Man's Obadiah Stane. For some reason that is never explained, Carnegie is very wealthy and seems to own one of the few towns that is still functioning. Imagine an 1885 Hill Valley with rapists. He has prostitutes, a gang of bikers under his employ, and shampoo. He also has control of Solara (Mila Kunis), the daughter of his mistress (Jennifer Beals). Together, Eli and Solara end up on the run from Carnegie, who will do anything to get his hands on Eli's bible. I think Solara might win my award for "least developed character of the year". Kunis gives the best performance she can muster, but for such a boring character, you never really get too invested in her. When she was in danger, the only thing I was concerned about was losing time to oggle at Kunis' unfair beauty. Actually, now that I think of it, her hair was always super nice. I thought shampoo was a valuable commodity? Oh Hollywood, you are a dastardly mistress.
In case I haven't made it clear, the story is extremely weak. My biggest issue with it is that there is not nearly enough development for the explanation of how the apocalypse happened. This is so crucial for these types of movies. Especially one like this, where everything is incredibly changed. Don't get me wrong, there is some brief explanation, but the vagueness of it, coupled with the fact that I didn't buy it all irritated me. At least in movies like Alfonso Cuarón's Children of Men where the future looks incredibly bleak, we know how it happened.
What makes up for it, however is the terrific direction. The Hughes Brothers seemed to take a page out of Cuarón's book and set up lots of long takes, some of them seeming to be about 4-5 minutes long. I am a huge fan of these, and I really admire how much effort and rehearsal it takes to make one of these shots work. They make a moviegoing experience much more realistic, and I can't get enough of them. Watch the shootout scene outside the old house. It's really impressive to see. Be on the look out for these guys, they are really great directors.
The Book of Eli doesn't achieve much. What it really has going for it is the awesome visuals, and the impressive talent of the directors. I look forward to seeing the next film by The Hughes Brothers, hopefully one with a better script.
Oh, and Denzel is incredibly badass. If you see this in theaters, make sure you do lots of loud cheering for him as he repeatedly owns people. It might make the movie a bit more enjoyable.