The Book of Eli
When you go in to see The Book of Eli you probably will do so with an empty slate, unless you have dug up the plot and secrets from an online source or big mouthed friend. The trailers don’t give us much, we just know there is a book and Denzel Washington cutting down bad guys on a barren landscape. The draw for this movie as opposed to my article on A-list actors not filling seats, is of course mister Washington again. A man’s man in 100% of the roles he plays, Denzel is an actor who despite his stringent clauses with role picking, has earned a large following amongst all movie-goers. His critics will call him dull, standard and un-Adventurous, yet he still manages to keep a trust among his fans that him being in a movie warrants a watch despite the subject matter and genre. While Training Day gave him broad attention as the role that defines his range, the people who have followed him since the days of The Mighty Quinn and A Soldier’s Story have grown to trust him in whatever he chooses.
So it was no surprise to find this midnight pre-viewing of The Book of Eli to be sufficiently filled (the theater that is) and with quite a cosmopolitan crowd beyond what I would normally expect from a Hughes Brothers movie. The Book of Eli was a lot of movies combined into a joyride through dusty towns, corrupt men and a world gone to hell. It was very much The Road Warrior sans the ex cop as a lead man, instead our lead man is a mysteriously pious man with a sword arm to rival that of the mighty Zatoichi himself. Eli has been commissioned to carry a heavy book west, for what reason he is not given but his mission is all he knows and he is more than willing to accomplish it.
When the movie starts we are shown an ashen forest set behind a monochromatic sepia type tone. A skinless cat picks at a few strewn carcasses of what looks to be soldiers and the feeling is that of death impending. When we are introduced to Eli, we are shown the hardships of his apocalyptic world as he scavenges for shoes, food and water all while toting a small arsenal of weaponry even though there is no civilization to see. When he comes across other men it isn’t friendly and from the first encounter you learn how absolutely able Eli is in finishing his mission. When he comes across an unusually healthy town of people, he encounters their leader Carnegie (Gary Oldman) and his band of thugs, headed up by the menacing Redridge (Ray Stevenson).
Carnegie is an avid reader and his collection grows with his thugs robbing any would-be traveler that happen across their steps. Yet search as they may, the one book he has them looking for has eluded him for years. The book of course is the one that Eli carries and when he learns of this Carnegie begins a tiny war against the one man – a man who has something on his side that makes blades, bullets and projectiles seem worthless against him. A man that manages to thwart his army, leaving with a prized possession – a woman named Solara (Mila Kunis) the daughter of Carnegie’s enslaved love interest Claudia (Jennifer Beals).
The make-up on the dry, thirsty and starved scavengers in The Book of Eli was effective. The look of these poor bastards made me thirsty just watching it as the world’s devastation made the oddest of things seem like treasure to them all. Men would trade their souls for soap, shampoo and chapstick. Cotton fabrics, leather gloves and books are bartered as prized possessions and money is non-existent. Thugs set traps in order to rape and pillage any fool who happens along unknowingly and cannibalism is so rampant that people develop a condition from eating human flesh. It is the same world we know from the Mad Max series, the Fist of The NorthStar anime and any post-apocalyptic book or movie. War decimated the world and the poor people who survive it are made to scavenge off of each other. It is a depressing look but one that most of us have grown to know.
When Eli settles down on the first night of his scavenging, we see him place ear buds into his ears and press play on an MP3 player. The sound of Al Green comes alive and as the night settles in he bathes with a few KFC wet naps. Denzel Washington is not the standard cool guy with the grimace that you will expect to snark him on. Denzel is Eli and he is so in character you cannot look past it no matter how hard you try. Gary Oldman normally steals the show when he plays a bad guy but Eli was most definitely the star of this thing. While Mila Kunis has a few lines here and there, being more of Eli’s shadow than the talkative, screaming stereotype, I found this to be more of an accurate depiction of a woman during times like this. She plays the role the same way she did as Max Payne’s right hand, seeming small and fragile but able to bring the hammer whenever it’s needed. She and Denzel worked surprisingly well together and the moments they shared allowed us a bit more depth into Eli and his world.
I will warn you potential watchers that MANY of you will be offended by the big reveal due to the controversial nature of the thing. I myself being of the “open minded” persuasion did not flinch at the book, but the underlying push towards that belief structure being the last hope for humanity did rub me the wrong way as it will you. But this does not ruin the movie at all as the final scenes reveal the ultimate truth about Eli and as his partner Solara takes up his guise and pulls his teachings close to her in preparation for what I hope is to be a femme fatale sequel (please Hughes Brothers do me this favor). We are given the truth and it was shocking enough to have me pondering at the “how” even after the credits stood rolling.
This was an absolutely amazing movie to me, and while I would love to join the masses in picking it apart, the nostalgia of Mad Max, the kickass action scenes and the unexpected twists keeps me rooting for this all the way. The Book of Eli was everything I expected it to be, and maybe a bit more. Check it out as soon as you can.