Maybe you’re like me, wondering why 9 out of 10 post apocalyptic visions of the world are barren wastelands with bands of miscreants marauding little bands of honest folk with little to no hope. Then again, maybe you’re not. No matter, The Book of Eli, follows along a similar route to that of Mad Max — lone guy; desolate world.
What separates The Book of Eli from the throng is its religious undertones — Eli (Denzel Washington) believes himself to be a prophet of sorts, heading westward to find a suitable location to preach the word of God. Oh yeah, he’s got the last known bible in existence too. What we learn is World War III is somehow the fault of religion and, because of this, all bibles have found their way to book burning piles. As Eli travels, we also come to realize he is also an unassuming badass. Be it with a blade, bare hands or with a gun, he can beat the shit out of the cannibals and other roaming scum of the Earth with relative ease.
Also helping to segregate their film, directors Albert and Allen Hughes use some interesting visuals and cues to really drive home the feeling of desolation. Shots are muted down giving the appearance of a parched, unforgiving world. Initially it is quite effective but as the film carries on, the effect looses much of its punch.
Then once Eli runs into a “Wild West” kind of town run heavy handedly by Carnegie (Gary Oldman), The Book of Eli falls back into line with every other movie of this genre. Carnegie is a cruel, learned man with a library to envy and band of enforcers willing to do his bidding. He has also got a good looking daughter, Solara (Mila Kunis), who believes in what Eli is selling after he saves her. As you can probably guess from the two preceding sentences, there is a showdown between Eli and Carnegie just waiting to happen. And it does, with makeshift armored vehicles and explosions and stuff.
It’s too bad the film takes a turn in this direction, however. It could have been more of a “thinking man’s” movie, exploring the use of religion as a savior to some and a shackle to others. Carnegie is dumbed down to become the basic hell bent for power at all costs villain, for which Oldman does his all too familiar bad guy impersonation for. There really should have been more meats and potatoes to this character — he can read and write (few on this cursed Earth can), and he ultimately understands the power of the religious word to those he wants to subjugate.
Another head scratcher: Kunis looks too clean and pretty to be living in a world where water and food is scarce, and moist towelettes are considered a currency.
So even though The Book of Eli starts off so positively, it ends rather predictably (that’s even after the absurd surprise ending). Nonetheless, it is a good start by first time writer Gary Whitta. For everyone else, not so much.