Starring: Denzel Washington, Mila Kunis, Gary Oldman, Ray Stevenson, Jennifer Beals
Director(s): Albert Hughes, Allen Hughes
Writer: Gary Whitta
Cinematography: Don Burgess
Original Score: Atticus Ross
Running Time: 118 Mins.
Let’s be honest, from day one The Book of Eli always looked to be The Road’s younger, more action packed and less solemn brother, this comparion not helped by the oh-so-close release dates of the two, yet while The Road has bags of existential conversation and a lot of walking along post apocalyptic wasteland with a whole heap of father/son bonding thrown in, The Book of Eli has, well, pretty much the same thing minus the father/son baggage and some samurai/western action set pieces thrown in for good measure. Yes, The Book of Eli is a strange beast to be sure.
Not that any of this is a bad thing, just that it is a much more sombre affair than anyone is likely to expect after the equally sombre The Road, the trailer suggests we are in for some serious ass kicking by Denzel Washington’s titular Eli, and that does happen, to a degree for oddly The Book of Eli’s strengths are also something of a weakness, with the plot not quite carrying enough conviction in its approach to follow through with its “message” in full.
Opening with a stunning scene set amidst the ash-adorned woods, we first see Eli kill and eat his dinner, a hairless cat! From then on in, for about half an hour at least, it’s Eli and the road (the literal one, not the filmic one!), much like the Man and Boy in The Road (the film this time!) Eli comes across bands of scavengers seeking anything of value, rather than evade them, Eli goes at them head on and it is at this point that all similarity to “that” other post-apocalypse story dissapate. Stylishly shot these flurries of action amidst the barron landscape are the highlight of the film.
Directors The Hughes Brotehrs have been largely low-key since their take on graphic novel From Hell, itself moodily shot and at its best when evoking the era, and again, with Eli, they have chosen solid material to work with, it is a film that rewards your patience not just in its action beats but in the plot that unfurls in a clever way, that will evoke memories of Mad Max and anyone who has played Fallout on the X-Box, but in Washington we have a solid savior and were nothing else great about The Book of Eli, his conviction mixed with bad-assery would carry you through!
But wait, there’s more, Gary Oldman turns up and that is when the film really steps up a notch or two, the characters inhabiting Oldman’s town are a veritable who’s who taken rough-shot from a Western, though it is so knowing in its presentation, even down to a twist on the shootout in the OK Coral , that you will be swept along with enjoyment. Oldman thankfully resists over-egging the bad-guy role though as his frustration builds so too does the bulging eyed look and the inane shouting, something helped by a slow burn of action set-pieces that have a great ludicrous nature.
Sadly, good as all this is, the general tone of the film jars and often feels at odds with the vast firefights and samurai skills on offer, religeous allegories are rife and only an idiot would fail to guess what book it is exactly that Eli seeks to protext and Oldman wishes to possess and therein lay the problem, after such bombast of action it is difficult to take on board the religeous messages about faith The Hughes Brothers seem to desperate to convey with the film’s finale a little too crass with its suggestions of Christ, and the power of hope and faith after a solid hours worth of great plotting and stylishly shot action!
The Book of Eli is a great film saddled with too much serious baggage, as the great action pieces and direction jar with ham-fisted religeous allegory. Thankfully though the pros far outweigh the cons making it seem like the confused younger brother of The Road, but compulsive viewing none-the-less!