By JAMES FULTON
When the trailers for “The Book of Eli” came out I was unsure about the project. My contempt towards the flood of recent post–apocalyptic movies and my growing angst toward the genre were battling my interest in any film starring Denzel Washington.
Washington is one of the few actors who provides depth of character to the action and revenge genres. His performances are typically subtle but never boring or generic. To classify this movie as an action film within a post–apocalyptic world (a style we see too frequently these days) as I was prepared to before the film began would, surprisingly, be a mistake.
“The Book of Eli” instead is more like a re–imagined Western. Albert and Alan Hughes, brothers as well as co-directors, have replaced the vast, dry landscapes of the unexplored old West with the vast, barren deserts of a world after nuclear war. The film even has a small one–road town, a bar where outsiders aren’t welcome that doubles as a brothel and, of course, has a villainous leader hell–bent on expansion.
The plot is simple enough. Washington plays the titular Eli who has been sent on a pilgrimage to bring the only copy left of the King James Bible across the country. He has been heading west for thirty years guided by faith toward an unknown destination. He stops in the aforementioned town to fill up his canteen where he meets the villain Carnegie and his gang.
I must say it is good to have Gary Oldman back in a villainous role. For the past six years, he has mainly played two roles: Sirius Black in the “Harry Potter” franchise and Jim Gordon in Christopher Nolan’s “Batman” franchise. Reserved, intimidating and poised, Oldman always seems to be frightening not because of his actions, but because of what is lurking underneath. A modern day Jimmy Cagney, Oldman, though calm, always seems like an armed bomb waiting to be bumped into, waiting for a reason to detonate.
The simplicity of the story — Eli wants to go West, Carnegie wants to stop him and keep The Book for himself — allows for subtle and engaging thematic exploration. The film explores the importance of education, both the uplifting and damaging aspects of religion, our current lives of excess, and faith.
Yet, it is not a flawless film by any means. The story is at times implausible, and that’s putting it nicely. The world is nearly out of all resources yet seems to have a surplus of designer sunglasses. The gorgeous Mila Kunis, playing Solara, who we could call Eli’s disciple, seems very out of place in the dystopian world of radiation scars and cannibalism. A beat-up rusty old station wagon seems to get about fifty miles to the gallon or maybe better towards the film’s ending. The list is fairly long.
If you can get past the small blemishes though, the film is very enjoyable; perhaps not the most original, but enjoyable nonetheless. Not to mention the film concludes with a fantastic twist that tests your memory and would make a second viewing very enjoyable. As I said, you can always count on Washington.