The Book of Eli

The fourth collaborative outing from Albert and Allan “Menace to Society” Hughes, is “The Book of Eli” starring Denzel Washington and Gary Oldman. It promised to be an exciting affair for several reasons. One, the film appeared to deal with many themes including the role of religion in the future. Perhaps this would encourage some serious debate, as the presence of religion in society is a topic on most people’s minds right now. It also appeared to have some exciting action sequences and I found the idea of Denzel Washington as a sword wielding religious bad-ass to be quite appealing. It was also the newest in a line of post-apocalyptic movies to be released here in the UK, and it came only a week after “The Road”, which is superb. Now, for me to make comparisons between “The Road” and “The Book of Eli” would be unfair, as they are two totally different films with very different directors. Well, sometimes life just isn’t fair so I’m going to anyway! First, the outline of the film.

“The Book of Eli” centres around Denzel Washington’s character, Eli, who has been charged with the heavy duty of carrying the last remaining Bible on Earth. Eli is our main protagonist and our hero. He has been walking for over 30 years and all he knows is that his job is to carry the bible West to put it into the hands of people who will know what to do with it. This task is not as easy as it seems as the roads are filled with gangs that are willing to do anything to find scraps and leftovers.

This world is lawless. People rape, people kill, people eat each other. Sound familiar? After using his holy sword of justice to destroy a group of mercenaries, their boss Carnegie, played by Gary Oldman, tries to persuade Eli to join his gang. It just so happens that Carnegie is on his own holy pursuit to find the book but for totally different reasons. He intends to use the bible to corrupt. He sees the book as a weapon. So it’s lucky for Carnegie that Eli spends a night in his “hotel” and subsequently realizes that Eli is carrying his much sought after item. What ensues is an all too predictable game of cat and mouse in which Eli and his female companion try to stay one step ahead of Carnegie. They encounter strange people on the way. They almost get caught. Eli kicks arse. They run away. They almost get caught again. They blow sh!t up. They run away again. You think they are giving away the book. They are not. You think they aren’t going to make it out West. They do. There is one genuine twist in the film which I won’t give away, but it doesn’t affect the outcome of the film in the slightest.

At times, “The Book of Eli” is visually stunning. It has a stylish sepia, almost as if the contrast has been turned up so high as if to make you feel like the characters in the film, who are constantly under the threat of being blinded by the sun. It is not 100% confirmed what caused the world in which they live to become the way it has, but we do know that it was a war that started it. Because of the bright, stylized nature of the film, possibly a nuclear as the toned up bright lights reminds me of The Matrix or Highlander Part 2 where wars or science burned holes in the sky to which people must now protect themselves from. The action sequences at times are equally impressive. Denzel does a good job with the fights, though sometimes they feel quite laborious and his movements lackadaisical and highly staged. Obviously they are choreographed fight sequences, but you don’t want to realise this during the film ruining the illusion. He is also helped by the way the directors choose to stage the action. Whether is be filming them in shadow, or making numerous cuts so as to not linger on Denzel too much. One action sequence in particular is quite breathtaking. Eli and his companion are inside a house and Carnegie is outside, and all hell breaks loose. Guns blaze, rockets fire and things get blown up. The camera goes in the house, outside the house. Through the letter box. Through bullet holes. Think one particular shoot out in “Bad Boys 2”, only more impressive. And what makes this scene so impressive is that it appears to happen in one take. Gary Oldman is his usual brilliant self, seamlessly mixing smooth criminal and manic psycho in one fell swoop. The rest of the film, however, is less impressive.

In my recent review of the Road, I mentioned how impressed I was with the look of the characters. In that world, the remaining people who survived have nothing and it really showed. The people looked dirty. I mean, really dirty. However, in “The Book of Eli”, despite living in a post-apocalyptic world where water, let alone soap is like gold dust, many individuals still manage to have a certain sex appeal. Some of the woman’s clothes are horrifically dirty, yet are luckily ripped just in the right ways as to show a nice amount of cleavage or lie tantilisingly high above the knee. Even some of the men manage to get matching outfits and look like trendy cyber punks. In “The Road”, people wear a mish mash of garments and simply make do. “The Road” has a magical way of reminding us to not take things for granted by the intense pleasure they take in the small things, such as a cigarette or a can of peaches. It is subtly done. In Eli, we have Denzel Washington spell out to his audience what went wrong in the past.

“In the world before, people had more than they needed and had no idea what was precious. We threw away things that people kill each other for now” – Eli.

I know this is nitpicking and like I mentioned earlier, it is totally unfair for me to compare the two films as they are unique and each director had their own individual visions on how best to portray their worlds, but I believe it’s the little touches like this that make the difference between average filmmaking and great filmmaking.

Another fault I found in the film was the crass way in which it tries to make a statement. On the one hand, we have Eli who is walking across the country on blind faith alone. A voice inside told him where to find the book and what to do with it, and he is protecting it with his life. He lives his life by the words inside and in this brave new world, this appears to make him one of the last few decent people in America. We could deduce it is his faith that allows him to act this way. So, are the filmmakers trying to say “look what happens in a world without religion? People loot, people kill, people pillage, people eat other.” If so, then we should bring religion back right? Well, contrary to this opinion, Eli suggests that religion might have well been the cause of the war. And take Gary Oldman’s character Carnegie for example.

“It’s not a book, it’s a weapon! A weapon aimed at the hearts and minds of the weak and desperate. They’ll come from all over to hear it’s words and they’ll do whatever I tell them…it’s happened before.” – Carnegie.

He is quite clearly the representation of the darker side and religion and how some new radicals can take the words of religious texts, whether it be the bible, the Koran, the Tora, and use it’s message for destruction and self gain rather than peace. He is the total antithesis to Eli. Both points of view are put through to the audience so it is hard to know what side of the fence it sits on. If, like Eli suggested some people believed, the bible was the cause of this apocalyptic event, why not simply leave it be? Wouldn’t the war he described simply happen again? If there are people out there who are willing to rape, kill and pillage to get their hands on it to spread it’s message for that of selfishness and their own interests, why not just destroy it too, or bury it so no one will be able to manipulate it’s message ever again. The answer is obvious, of course. And I am sure that by presenting such strong cases for each case, the directors want the audience to make up their own minds, but I just see it as a way of dumbing down an audience so you don’t necessarily have to think about it too much and just focus on the ass-kicking.

Ultimately, what could have been a well thought out movie that infers the role of religion in the future and what role that can play on our lives, ends up in a none-too-original popcorn action flick. Instead of subtly trying to engage in debates and let us try and make weigh up the pro’s and con’s of each character by their actions alone, we are bashed about the head with a shovel full of contrasting opinions. “RELIGION IS GOOD!” “NO, RELIGION IS BAD AND CAN CORRUPT!” RARRRRRR!! And what also could have been a slick action movie with great pacing, merely dragged along from one formulaic narrative point to the next. I wouldn’t say that “The Book of Eli” is that bad, it just isn’t that great either. I would say that the directors missed a great opportunity. They would probably say they just wanted to see Denzel Washington as a sword-wielding religious bad-ass. In that respect, they reached their holy grail. Amen.

Trailers that were shown before the movie:

“Ninja assassin” – Looks lame, but the fights look great.

“The crazies” – Zombies? Air born viruses? Whatever, looks creepy.

“Shutter Island” – The trailer could have consisted of Leonardo Di Caprio reading the Great Gatsby for two hours and I would still be excited for this.

“Edge of darkness” – Mel Gibson goes crazy and beats up people…again. Directed by Martin Campbell who did Casino Royale so I’m in.

“Green Zone” – Could be interesting, but it just looks like The Bourne Identity Part 4 – Bourne Got His Memory Back.

Categories: Film, Reviews

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