The Book of Eli
2010, R, 118 min. Directed by Allen Hughes, Albert Hughes. Starring Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis, Ray Stevenson, Jennifer Beals, Evan Jones, Michael Gambon, Frances de la Tour, Tom Waits, Malcolm McDowell.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Jan. 22, 2010
Has it really been almost a decade since the Hughes Brothers released a film? Apparently, yes. The sibling team that exploded out of indieworld with 1993's Menace II Society, a lean and mean hollaback to John Singleton's Boyz n the Hood, haven't had a movie in theatres since 2001's artful clunker From Hell. The Book of Eli is one more in an increasingly dire line of post-apocalypse films with none-too-optimistic messages embedded in them (e.g., 2012 = "Give up"; The Road = "We're all doomed"; and Blindness = “Give up because we're doomed and we're blind, to boot"). Like its titular protagonist (a deadly smooth Washington), The Book of Eli early on sets a course and never deviates from its core mission of being an action-packed, end-of-days road movie. A war has happened some 30 years prior and sucked the color out of the sky, most of the people from the Earth, and all the King James Bibles from the physical plane. The enigmatic Eli, stoic as a monk and with much in common with a certain Japanese swordsman, plods along the road with his precious cargo safely tucked away inside a dusty backpack. (Everything is dusty in this film.) His occasional encounters with other human beings prove less than encouraging – bandits, cannibals, and illiterates haunt the American interstate highway system – until he arrives at a dingy little wreck of a town overseen by Carnegie (Oldman looking, well, old), a teapot dictator with a yen for the Good Book. Carnegie knows the power of the written word, or, at least, the power of the religious icon, and he schemes to remove Eli's burden from him and thus remake himself as a ruler of men. Eli, understandably, is wary, watchful, and either blessed or damned, depending on your spiritual rigging. Dust ensues, but for all its grit and detritus, The Book of Eli is a well-polished movie. The Hughes Brothers, working with cinematographer Don Burgess (Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines), make a convincing case for dying quickly in the event of super bad shit happening everywhere. Even the entrance of Beals and Kunis (as Carnegie's blind lover/slave and her daughter, respectively) into this heretofore testosterone-charged film can’t dent the overall feeling of bad mojo rising that hangs over the proceedings like a funereal pall. To their credit, and my everlasting relief, the Hughes Brothers have also rounded out their film with several wonderfully realized cameos from a handful of unexpected character actors, chief among them Waits, McDowell, and Gambon (the latter steals the whole show from everybody). Much has been made of the film's ending, vis-à-vis whether or not it's a pro- or anti-organized religion commentary of some sort. The Hughes Brothers, for two, say they just wanted to make a kickass piece of contemporary entertainment, and I, for one, believe them.