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Movie Review: The Book Of Eli

January 14, 2010

The Book of Eli is an overly stylized movie that takes itself way too seriously, features  hammy acting,  and laughable dialogue.  You could drive an eighteen-wheeler through its gaping plot holes, but despite all this, I rather enjoyed the film.  If I’m going to have to eat some cheese, this is the type of movie I prefer to dole out my rations.

Brothers Allen and Arthur Hughes (From Hell, Menace II Society) are the directors of the post-apocalyptic tale of Eli (Denzel Washington), who traverses a bombed out tundra while traveling westward with a precious undisclosed  cargo. For the first 20 minutes or so, The Book of Eli looked to be an exact retread of The Road, which was just out in theaters a few months ago.

The movies share the exact same vision of a dystopian future.  Color is bleached from the scenery, light ash appears to constantly fall, and all humans are bedraggled, filthy, and desperate.  Both films feature cannibalism as a major threat to their protagonists, and both show how precious throw-away commodities from modern society become in this world.  Cigarette lighters and individual wet wipes from KFC are bartering fare, not money.  If you are a shoe whore, you should be set, because apparently shoes are one of the most valuable and hard to come by possessions when everyone has to walk everywhere.

However, while The Road was a contemplative film with little action, The Book of Eli is the opposite.  Eli battles marauders with a sharp machete,  and a servicable set of martial arts skills. The film is quite violent, and unapologetic about it.

Eli comes upon a western town complete with a saloon, pawn shop, and other services.  It is run by a ruthless dictator named Carnegie (Gary Oldman), who controls the food, water, and other amenities with an army of henchmen at his disposal.  Carnegie has been obsessed with obtaining a certain book that will give him more power, and believes that this stranger in town might have it in his possession.

He sends his stepdaughter Solara (Mila Kunis) to seduce Eli while he stays as their guest.  Solara is fascinated by the educated man who can read books (a lost art) and decides to join him on his journey.  No spoilers here, but I thought the movie had a nifty twist, and I certainly didn’t see it coming.

Denzel Washington gives this movie a respectability it doesn’t really deserve, and I think he did a fine job with what he was given.  Gary Oldman forgot how to act, so he just yells and sweats a lot, and Mila Kunis does her wide-eyed innocence thing.  Malcolm Macdowell makes a brief appearance, and Michael Gambon plays one half of an eccentric old couple that Eli and Solara encounter. Nobody else is really notable in the movie, because you can’t tell who anyone is.  Everyone is clothed in ragged biker gear, caked in dirt and wears goggles.

One of the glaring continuity issues is that Solara is luminous, without a trace of dust on her, and her hipster-chic outfit looks like it was just pulled out of its Urban Outfitters bag.  A few well placed braids in her hair are supposed to make her look disheveled.  She also sports a killer pair of boots.   I know that since she is Carnegie’s stepdaughter she is supposed to have access to clothing and such, but it still looks silly, particularly when Carnegie himself looks kind of dirty and unkempt.  They could have attempted to make her look convincing.

Another thing that didn’t make any sense is why Carnegie wants the book so badly.  It is pretty evident that he has a stranglehold on the community as it is.  Why does he need more power?  He keeps bringing up the fact that, “It’s not a book, it’s a weapon.”  Why does he need a weapon?  Again, he is clearly already in control.

There are lots of little things like that in the movie that keep it from being a good movie, but I still contend that it is an enjoyable one.  It kept my attention for the whole two hours, and there was that zinger at the end.  You certainly could do worse for the month of January.

Rating 3.5/5


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