Entertaining but flawed with two very watchable stars

2010-03-01 00:00

THE Book of Eli is set in a post-apocalyptic world and follows the journey of Eli (Denzel Washington), protector of the last known Bible on Earth. He has been journeying for 30 years, on a mission to deliver his prized possession to a place somewhere in the west. He often has to contend with marauding hijackers, but his fighting skills honed through years in the wasteland are more than a match for those with evil intentions. Eventually he arrives in a dusty Wild West style town where the leader, Carnegie (Gary Oldman), is also on a search for a book with great power. His intentions though, are to use it as an opiate for the masses. He initially wines and dines Eli, respecting his fighting skills, but then discovers that he has the very book he so desires. What follows is the classic Western shoot-out and then a chase ending up with Eli holing up with some geriatic cannibals. This is the ultimate face-off and the darkly comic scenario reveals the only real original plotting flourishes.

The plot has numerous holes, perhaps understandable in some senses as the universe of post-apocalyptia would require reconceptualisation in many ways too complex for what is really a restyled Western. Questions as to how fuel is so readily available and points about people’s hands signifying something are never explained. It is really in the final twist though, that things fall completely apart and credibility is pushed over the limit. Even the filming style slips into a type of montage mode, evidence that the ending was problematic even for the filmmakers (the Hughes brothers).

All this said, the film is still entertaining on many levels. Recently, I completed a video game called Fallout 3 dealing with a similar theme, but able in its scope to reconceptualise and rethink the post-apocalyptic genre. It was great to see elements of iconography being shared in The Book of Eli, such as the landscapes, where tattered billboards comment ironically, or a lonely shopping trolley lies rusted under a shattered highway fly-over. In a dig at our consumer culture, KFC handywipes are the way to take a bath. We have moved beyond the simple renditions created by Mad Max and the Cold War and our cultural contexts are bringing something new to the genre.

For me personally, Gary Oldman’s presence as a villain is a good enough reason to see a movie, and once again he manages to captivate. Denzel Washington is solid and always able to bring complexity to simply written protagonists. Overall , The Book of Eli is entertaining, but flawed.

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