Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Book of Eli

It's been thirty years since “The Flash”, and event that turned the world (or at least the United States) in a barren wasteland. Now in order to even walk outside people must where protective eyewear or risk blindness. Humanity struggles to exist in the ruins of the old world; this is the world of “The Book of Eli”.

Through the ruins, the violence, and the cannibalism wanders Eli (Denzel Washington: “Man on Fire”), a man with a mission. For thirty years he has been wandering through the wasteland to answer a call from God; take the last bible in existence west to where it is needed.

While Eli tries to be a peaceful man, he is not adverse to doing what he must to protect the book; his sword, shotgun, handgun, and bow are a testament to this. He knows how to use these weapons, and is not afraid to do so.

On his travels he comes through a small town run by a man called Carnegie (Gary Oldman: “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”), who happens to be searching for a powerful book that will not only allow him to cement his power in this town, but possibly to found others. It is in this town that he meets Solara (Mila Kunis: “Family Guy”), the daughter of Carnegie's concubine, and the person who is to accompany him on the final leg of his quest.

Rounding out the cast are Jennifer Beals (“The L Word”) as Claudia, Carnegie's concubine who he alternately lavishes with affection and brutally abuses and mother to Solara, and Ray Stevenson (“Punisher: War Zone”) as Rutridge, Carnegie's badass chief enforcer. Both of these characters could easily have faded into the background with all of the other extras, but they both end up playing important and memorable roles in the overall story.

Let me get my personal biases out of the way here, I love this setting. When I first saw the trailers for this film I thought “That looks like Fallout”, which of course is in reference the long running series of video games first put out by Interplay and now by Bethesda. Other than the retro style used in the Fallout world, this could be it from the collapsing overpasses to the dusty landscape, to the tape wrapped around the handle of Eli's shotgun, this movie manages to bring that type of world to life better than pretty much any film since “Mad Max”.

“The Book of Eli” is an odd sort of film. While there is a strong Christian message to the whole thing there is also lots and lots of violence. In the film's first twenty minutes or so we see Eli dispatch a half dozen bandits. Limbs and heads fly throughout this film, but it is also strangely bloodless; you will not find any huge geysers of blood through this film.

Also the Hughes brothers seem to have gone to lengths to make sure the violence isn't all that this movie is about. While we are treated to on screen decapitations, the use of a rocket launcher, and people being shot through with arrows, the movie never focuses on this for too long, We never get slow motion close-ups of the violence. If you blink you may well miss someone's head coming off of their shoulders in the middle of a battle. The violence is what it is, and it is satisfying to watch, but it seems like it is not ultimately what the filmmakers want you to walk away with.

Since all of the major characters are people that the actors have played before, they all come across quite well. Washington plays a restrained hero who is able and willing to kick a lot of ass if forced to. Oldman plays the intelligent and restrained villain who is willing to risk everything to get what he wants. Kunis plays a whiny girl. Sure it's a bit of typecasting, but it works really well.

My complaints about this film are few. First off, the movie does get a little talky in the middle as Eli tells Solara how it is that he has the last bible on Earth, and after the more action-focused scenes that come before it does feel like it slows the movie down a lot. I feel like I have to forgive this though, as it did answer a lot of questions I had by that point in the film.

The second issue I have is Mila Kunis. It's not necessarily that she's wrong for this role, Solara seems like she should be a little whiny, it's just that her voice is very distinctive. I found myself frequently having to hold back shouts of “Shut up, Meg!” while she is talking. Is that just me though? Oh, never mind then.

If you are looking for some R-rated violent action this weekend, this seems to me like your best bet. Sword play, shootouts, explosions, and even a car wreck or two made for a fun film in a fantastic setting. I not only recommend seeing it in theaters, but I will be picking this one up when it comes out on DVD. “The Book of Eli” is in theaters now.

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