Friday, January 15, 2010

"Book of Eli" is a lot of post-apocalyptic sameness



The Book of Eli (2010) 
118 min., rated R.
Grade: C +

Coming off the heels of "The Road," the U.S. is another desolate, ashy waste of landscape in "The Book of Eli," a post-apocalyptic good vs. evil western. Stoic, grizzled Denzel Washington is credible as usual playing Eli, but doesn't evoke much personality. His traveler of a character (a prophet?) has a thing for Al Green tunes and KFC handi-wipes, has a miraculous resiliency for bullets, and is very adroit with a machete and rifle. It's been 30 years after the nuclear blast, or whatever it was that caused The End, but Eli sets out to the Old West with an important book (Twilight or maybe the Bible?) and save the remains of humanity. The cruel Carnegie (Gary Oldman, in scenery-chewing bad-guy mode) is in charge of the town Eli finds and wants the book, dammit, for his own purposes, while he holds his blind mistress (Jennifer Beals) prisoner and her barmaid daughter Solara (a strong Mila Kunis) takes up the journey with Eli. 

Twin brothers Albert and Allen Hughes give us a stark, bleak view, with Don Burgess's stunning sepia-tone cinematography, and keep their action scenes crisp, standing back for many of the stylized punch-and-stab moments and not letting their editor hack it up. The ashy wilderness in the opening scene—where Eli in a gas mask hunts and kills a sphinx cat with an arrow—grabs us, and road-warrior Eli facing off ruffians with bad dental hygiene recalls a lot from "The Road Warrior." The silhouette six-against-one fight is a nicely cartoonish touch, like something out of "Kill Bill," and there's something regarding cannibalistic humor in a sequence with Eli and Solara taking refuge in the dwelling of a cannibalistic couple (cheekily played by Michael Gambon and Frances de la Tour, both together in "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire"). 

The twist coda surely is a surprise, but doesn't stand up to scrutiny and so what? In the end, "The Book of Eli" is still a grimly ponderous futuristic tale with some action and religion but not enough energy or plot development. 

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