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Old 01-19-2010, 02:47 PM
Albert and Allen Hughes's The Book of Eli

Here's the link to the published version of my review in my column at The Richmond Examiner:

The Book of Eli (2010)

The Hughes' Brothers "The Book of Eli" is like "The Road" with a pulse. That doesn't necessarily mean it's a good film though. In fact, in this case, it wasn't nearly enough as it falls prey to several of the problems that "The Road" had, and while it wasn't as big a failure as that film, it's still a lot of apocalyptic wasteland to get through.

Set in what looks to be a not-too-distant future, the hero of the film, Eli (Denzel Washington) is traveling to the West in possession of the last copy of a very important book. There has apparently been a terrible war that burned a hole in the sky, causing an apocalyptic disaster that killed a large majority of life on Earth. Eli stops in a small town of survivors that is run by Carnegie (Gary Oldman), a ruthless man looking for the very book that Eli possesses. However, Carnegie wishes to use its power to control more towns, whereas Eli sees himself as a man on a mission, trying to deliver the book where a voice told him to.

Also in this town, he meets Solara (Mila Kunis), daughter of Claudia (Jennifer Beals). Carnegie sees Solara and Claudia as nothing more than chips for him to bargain with. For example, when he is trying to get Eli to join his side, he offers Solara to him for pleasure purposes. After escaping the town, Eli sets out again, but this time, with Solara by his side to see what awaits them in the west. However, they must be careful with Carnegie in pursuit of the book.

It's becoming harder and harder to see what the appeal of a post-apocalyptic setting is, especially after this and "The Road." It would take an awful lot to tell a compelling story with such a vast and bleak wasteland as a setting. Where these two films end up differing, however, is that this one actually has a bit of a plot.

"The Road" featured two characters wandering aimlessly toward the ocean with the only reason being that the man's wife suggested it. Here, we have two characters wandering toward the ocean with a slight purpose. They have no idea what that purpose is because they are going purely based on a voice that told Eli to do so.

What both films fall victim to is not giving their characters much to do along the way. It's less true with "The Book of Eli," but the main action that occurs is Eli having to fight groups of people in order to protect his property. The two things keeping the film afloat are the performances from Washington and Oldman.

Washington plays Eli in a very low-key manner. He understands why the book is important just like Carnegie does, and is willing to do anything to keep it safe. Nobody can play a villain quite like Oldman can. In this role, in which he's looking a lot like Jim Gordon (it's the glasses), he's willing to do anything to get the book, including the sacrifice of several lives.

The ending has been the point of most discussions regarding this film. It's not so much silly as it is unoriginal. You kind of hope for it to be something more, but then all you end up getting is an ending you've seen several times before in other movies of this type. The very end, I believe, is the part that people are referring to when they say it goes against the theme of the movie.

It's been really hard to tap dance around what the book actually is, though it's not incredibly hard to figure out from the posters or trailers, but just in case, I won't spoil it here. The theme of the film has a lot to do with what the book is, and it being the last copy in existence is rather important. If only the film could have done more with it. It basically introduces this theme and then lets its characters loose in order to carry out their mission. This includes killing multiple people, which, when you think about it, goes directly against the theme as well. 2/4 stars.
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