The Book Of Eli

The Book Of Eli

***1/2

Reviewed by: Stephen Carty

I Am Legend, Terminator Salvation, The Road... it seems that cinema's latest genre love is the post-apocalyptic, end-of-the-world flick. Adding a new spin, The Hughes Brothers follow-up to From Hell throws religion into the mix (no, wait, come back, its all very restrained) while attempting to engage the mind as well as the raising pulses.

Thirty years after a nuclear war, a man named Eli (Denzel Washington) walks West across the ravaged globe, guarding the last remaining bible. Passing through a small town, he encounters bossman Carnegie (Gary Oldman) who has been searching for the book as a means of power. Heading off in search of a home, Eli lets towngirl Solara (Mila Kunis) tag along while Carnegie and his goons follow after them.

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Fusing subtle religious text with Mad Max and the spaghetti western, the result is an impressive-if-somewhat-sombre actioner. The opening period is undoubtedly slow and mostly-dialogue-free, but things soon kick into gear with a beautifully-shot slice ‘em up seen in silhouette. From here the set-pieces are sporadic – but always exciting and kinetic. Mixing the heavy thwack of a Michael Mann shootout with some stedicam work clearly inspired by Children Of Men, the pick of the bunch is perhaps an all-out assault on a rickety old house.

But yet, don’t go thinking that this is the brainless action-version of The Road – its not. There are some big themes dealt with here - the importance of such a book, how it could affect the masses - but they’re never stuffed down your throat heavy-handedly. The look is also memorable, as the filmmaking brothers render a desaturated, high-contrast grey wash over the screen’s pallet so as to perfectly encapsulate the bleak, sun-drenched world. And if that all meant nothing to you, the short version is that the movie has a grey-ish tint to it.

Problems? Well there are a few. The roots of the apocalypse are left too vague, the characters are all a little underwritten and, while one of the two late ‘suprises’ has a nice ‘didn’t see that coming’ vibe, the other feels a little stretched. As for Eli’s supernatural powers (oh yeah, as he’s on a mission for God he’s been gifted abilities including fighting prowess, accuracy and a sort of invulnerability), though they work very well within the confines of the movie, some may find it too reminiscent of comic books.

In the lead, Denzel impresses with some lighting-quick Jason Bourne-style moves, but isn’t really given enough to work with. Elsewhere, Michael Gambon and Frances de la Tour (“Miss Jones!”) delight in a nicely-timed cameo, Malcolm McDowell adds weight with an uncredited appearance and Ray Stevenson is appropriately henchman-like. Still, if you’re a male viewer (or even a female, who knows?) your eyes will be fixed to the unfathomably-radiant Kunis, who does enough to ensure she needn’t be stuck in rom-coms for the rest of her career.

Flawed yes, but there’s a nice mix of solid action and thoughtful ponder-points. It starts off slow, but have a little faith.

Reviewed on: 07 Feb 2010
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The Book Of Eli packshot
In a post-nuclear landscape, one man guards the world's last bible.
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If you like this, try:

I Am Legend
The Road