Directed by the Hughes brothers who are best know for From Hell, the Jack The Ripper movie based on a graphic novel by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell. The book of Eli is actually their first movie since From Hell, nine years ago. Thirty years after an apocalyptic event (possibly a nuclear war) Eli (Denzel Washington) is walking west across the wasteland towards the coast. He caries with him a copy of the bible, possibly the last bible left in the world. Stopping in a small town to buy water and get a battery charged (a battery he uses to power an ipod , a third generation from circa 2003, like any of them will be working in thirty tears time!). Carnegie (Gary Oldman) the self proclaimed leader of the town wants to get his hands on the book for a perceived personal gain. This interrupts his quest to reach the ocean.
For the second time in as many months I am going to quote Bruce Springsteen (I resisted the temptation when reviewing The Road):
“Rumbling through this promised land
Tonight my baby and me we’re gonna ride to the sea
And wash these sins off our hands”
There seems to be some kind of cleansing or redemptive power associated with the sea or ocean in apocalyptic or post apocalyptic movies. If there is any good reason to travel to the coast varies from film to film and was parodied in Zombieland. You will have to see the film to find out if there is a tangible destination in this movie. The same goes for the book of the title, as mentioned above it is a bible, other than a few quotes the book serves little purpose other than an expression of peoples desires, in this it could be described as a Maguffin. The effect it has on the lives of the characters in the movie is associated to its existence and the desire to own it rather than any intrinsic value it as or vital information contained with it. Having said that the concept that when the would is well and truly fucked and in the absolute pits of despair, the written word will be more powerful than weapons does give a great sense of hope.
The biggest problem with The Book of Eli is the budget. How many times have you seen a B movie and thought that could have been so much better if they had a bit more money to spend on: better actors, better effects or just generally higher production values? The opposite is true of The book of Eli, it is a B movie with an A list cast and a big budget. There are plenty of movies from the genre that did great things on a low budget: Mad Max, Night of the Comet and Hardware spring to mind. Having said that a report on Hitfix claims the movie took £11.7million on its opening day, there extrapolation suggests it could take $40-45 million over the Martin Luther King Day long weekend “which means recouping its reported $80 million budget should be an easy task”
Comparisons to The Road and Children of Men are inevitable, but both films are superior to this movie mainly because of a greater focus on their intentions. The religious part of the film doesn’t always fit well portraying the bible as a cause of the apocalypse and a potential salvation at the same time. It doesn’t have the conviction to condemn or defend religion, it merely points out that some people will use it for good others for immoral purposes or personal gain.
In poining out its problems I have made the film sound like it isn’t very good, however that isn’t the case, for all its flaws the film is actually really enjoyable and quite good. Despite his righteousness Washington’s Eli is actually a likable character as is Solara (Mila Kunis) and Claudia (Jennifer Beals). Gary Oldman’s Carnegie is suitably repulsive as are his various minions. Frances de la Tour and Michael Gambon provide both prospective and comic relief. The action scenes especially the fighting are really well handled. The film also looks really good making good use of its desolate New Mexico locations. Shot on a Red One digital camera the look of the film that replicates Bleach bypass process effect was probably achieved in post production. The most positive thing I can say about the movie is that it is so entertaining the two hours really fly by.
It is hard to express how and why but the end surprisingly is hugely satisfying and well played out letting you forgive any previous faults. It also give an opportunity for an interesting sequel .