Book Of Eli, The (2010)

[Rating:3/5]                  

Starring:  Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis, Ray Stevenson, Jennifer Beals, Evan Jones, Joe Pingue, Frances de la Tour, Michael Gambon, Tom Waits.
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Director:  The Hughes Brothers (Allen/Albert Hughes)
Rating:  R
Running Time:  118 Mins.
Release Date:  January 15, 2010
DVD Release Date:  TBD
Box Office: $94,835,059
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Alcon Entertainment, Silver Pictures, and Warner Bros. Pictures

Written By:  Gary Whitta

“He’s just a man like any other.  If you shoot him, he will go down…” – Carnegie (Gary Oldman).

Denzel Washington is, and has always been, a commanding on-screen presence.  The 2-time Oscar winner has embraced a diverse number of roles in his impressive film career.  With “The Book Of Eli” however, Washington tries something new and unique for him.  The mercenary.  While Washington has made many an action film in his career, he has never been the bad-ass, take no prisoners, heartless mercenary type.  He leaps all in to the role of Eli in the post-apocalyptic, western-slash-action film, “Book Of Eli” with some rather interesting results.

Marking the long-awaited return of directors Allen and Albert Hughes (their first film since 2001′s “From Hell”), otherwise known as The Hughes Brothers, “The Book Of Eli” tells the story of Eli (Denzel Washington), a peaceful man who is simply on a journey “West.”  Eli possesses a book that he takes with him everywhere and is secured under a sophisticated lock and key.  Eli references the book often and it is never far from his reach, usually wrapped in cloth and deeply embedded in his backpack.  30 years after “The Flash”, a nuclear event that has left America a barren and desolate wasteland, Eli has spent much of that time walking and is at heart, a peaceful man.  However, when forced to and when necessary, he is a lethal and nearly unbeatable killing machine, eliminating anyone or anything that threatens to stop him on his path.  Be they cannibals, deadly assassins in their own right, or the evil left on Earth, Eli has vanquished them all and simply continues his walk.

Eli wanders into a makeshift town and soon encounters the villainous Carnegie (Gary Oldman).  Naturally a book collector, Carnegie sees Eli as a threat to his commune and after an altercation between Eli and his gang of mercenaries, Carnegie covets Eli’s book, no matter the cost.  Eli soon meets Carnegie’s adopted daughter, Solara (Mila Kunis) and Solara sees in Eli the chance to escape from her terrible conditions.  As Solara joins Eli in their escape from Carnegie’s town, and Eli reluctantly risks the completion of his journey by allowing her to come along, the stage is set for a final confrontation which may or may not extinguish Eli’s ability to go “West.”

A highly stylized film with much of the color washed out and replaced with dirty and dusty browns, and gray and colorless landscapes, “The Book Of Eli” is certainly a unique film to watch.  Seeing much of Washington’s work, I can compliment him for signing on for a role markedly different than anything he has tackled previously.  Eli is a man of few words and Washington’s subdued and controlled take on Eli commands your attention.

The film is not without its flaws certainly.  Underwritten and garishly over-the-top, Gary Oldman is a bit of a disappointment.  Mila Kunis is not the best fit for the empathetic daughter-type that Eli brings along as he attempts to complete his journey.  The Hughes Brothers directorial flourishes can be a bit distracting as well.  They opt for slow motion sequences and then abandon them.  We get random and intermittent panoramic views of Eli’s surroundings for really no distinct reason, other than to remind us over and over again that we are in a post-apocalyptic America.  They attempt humor at random times, although British actors Michael Gambon (yes – Dumbledore in the recent Harry Potter films) and Frances de la Tour do jolt you to attention with their entertaining cameo as a married couple who find themselves suddenly smack dab in the middle of Eli’s escalating conflict with Carnegie and his men.

Without revealing much, there is a rather surprising twist near the end that I did not see coming, although it is character-driven and not related to the book Eli carries with him.  In fact, while some critics have revealed what the book is, I will not.  Rather, I will simply offer that a character, driven to walk the Earth on a journey to deliver a message to someone in the West, should be all the indication you need to understand the subtext of what is happening here.

As my friend stated at the film’s conclusion, the film provides plenty for a viewer to equally use for both defending a passionate love and/or an equal dislike for what is on screen.  I opt to shrug my shoulders and give it the benefit of the doubt.  Far from great, but certainly worth a look, “The Book Of Eli” is a stylistic contradiction, albeit an accomplished one, which shares its flaws and successes with you in equal parts.

Should I See It?

YES

Certainly different from much of what has come down the pike recently, “Book Of Eli” mixes an interesting stew of science fiction, action, and western film elements.

Denzel Washington is believable in the role and it is nice to see an accomplished, highly acclaimed actor take a chance with something like this.

I would imagine that elements of the story which have come to light through other reviews and articles on the film, will draw a large number of people to interested in its message and how it is presented.

NO

There are sequences that leave you scratching your head a bit and do not receive proper explanation.  At times, it is as if The Hughes Brothers threw some ideas at the proverbial wall to see if they would stick.

The overtones of what is happening here may ring hollow and disingenuous with certain viewers.

Be aware that this is Rated R for some rather sudden and strong violence, which articles and reviews dealing more with the screenplay’s ideas and potential inspiration seem to be glossing over.

You dislike post-apocalyptic films of any kind.