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|The Book of Eli
dir The Hughes Brothers
scr Gary Whitta
prd Broderick Johnson, Andrew A Kosove, Joel Silver, David Valdes, Denzel Washington
with Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis, Ray Stevenson, Jennifer Beals, Frances de la Tour, Michael Gambon, Tom Waits, Malcolm McDowell, Evan Jones, Joe Pingue, Lora Martinez-Cunningham
release US/UK 15.Jan.10
10/US Alcon 1h58
On a mission from God: Washington
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
Although it feels like a parallel story taking place at the same time as THE ROAD, this post-apocalyptic thriller has the opposite effect, actually getting less complex and interesting as it goes along. At least it starts out well.
Eli (Washington) is a loner walking through a decimated American landscape some 30 years after "the war" brought about "the flash". His most precious possession is an old book, and he's willing to fight to the death to protect it as he heads west. Then he stumbles into a roughneck town run by the greedy Carnegie (Oldman), who's searching for the legendary book with his brutal henchman (Stevenson). And when the daughter (Kunis) of Carnegie's blind girlfriend (Beals) runs off after Eli, things get messy.
The setting consists of dusty landscapes and dead cities with a morally upright man trying to survive marauding bands of thieves and cannibals. But while The Road started here and deepened into an examination of human morality, this film is more interested in cool slow motion, grisly fights and ham-fisted religious propaganda. It looks great, and Washington is a terrific presence, but after the thoughtful, involving opening sequence, things quickly turn rather silly.
The main problem is that a standard movie structure takes over when Eli encounters Carnegie. Oldman revels in the snivelling, obsessed villain role, with Beals and Kunis playing thankless female characters amid the Mad Max extras who cackle around the edges. Sudden scenes of grim violence keep us on edge, while the over-serious tone is mercifully undercut by a few comical asides (UK audiences will particularly enjoy thespians Gambon and de la Tour as nutty survivalists).
But the script itself isn't half as clever as it thinks it is, throwing in vague references to environmental catastrophes, holy wars and oppressive regimes. Yes, there's a guilty pleasure element to the film, even if it gets a bit too long and takes a couple of contrived twists (try not to think about where they get petrol for their gas-guzzling trucks). But it's the way potentially interesting characters disappear into thin stereotypes that leaves a bad taste in our mouths.
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© 2010 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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