Denzel Washington is the man of action in this post-apocalypse tale, somewhere between Mad Max and The Road.
Thirty years after ‘the Flash’, which we guess to be a meteor strike or a giant solar flare, since there’s no nuclear radiation, society has broken down (again, ho hum). Our Denzel (Training Day, Man on Fire) is Eli, ‘the Walker’, who’s been heading West for three decades through a wilderness of scavengers, cannibals and bike gangs. A handy man with a machete, this grizzled veteran is a man on a mission; to take The Book to safety.
In a violent, mysogenistic genre piece, Denzel does his man-of-lost-integrity thing, Gary Oldman (Fifth Element, Batman) is the water baron of the one-well town, but the enterprise is saved by female leads Mila Kunis (Black Swan, Ted) and Jennifer Beales (Flashdance).
Washed out and stylised like a Tony Scott picture, less melodramatic and lower octane than Mad Max, less depressing than The Road (thankfully), The Book of Eli is a well made, earnest attempt to make this kind of genre movie respectable. Although it will never beat Space Hunter 3D – Adventures in the Forbidden Zone. Joking.
Without spoiling, you can probably guess what The Book is; it almost makes sense for Oldman to obsessively search for it, in the ambition of using the text as a form of social control to expand his empire. Hm… a student of history. Oldman always makes an interesting, rounded villain, and if you like the idea that he’s a hollow bully, this works. Gambon did it better in Open Range.
At the centre, Washington is ever-watchable, although his lone gunslinger is a little thin, his Road to Damascus moment a little late in coming. His colour is never an issue, despite being the only non-white face in the whole thing. And how does it take thirty years to walk from East to West across America if that’s your ‘mission’ and the sun is up?
Best comic moment (actually, the only comic moment); Brits Michael Gambon and Frances De La Tour (the Harry Potters) as an elderly pair of cannibal survivalists. Watch out for another uncredited Brit cameo near the end.
It’s left to Mila Kunis and Jennifer Beals (yes, she’s still working) to get the abuse and the beatings and also to provide the real moral compass that Eli lacks for most of the movie.
Unusually, the big action set-piece isn’t the climax of the movie, which diverts from the Shane/Steel Dawn plot line in an attempt to be more profound. Given the dim view it takes of humanity and society, it rather misses the mark and doesn’t say very much for the right-wing Christian fundamentalism that under-cuts, rather than under-pins the whole script.
An interesting curio, but no classic. RC
The Book of Eli (2010)
Directors: Albert Hughes , Allen Hughes
Writer: Gary Whitta
Running time: 1 hr. 17 min.
Genre: Action & Adventure, Sci-fi
Cast: Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Jennifer Beals, Malcolm McDowell, Michael Gambon, Mila Kunis, Ray Stevenson, Tom Waits