The Book of Eli doesn't break new ground in the post-apocalyptic subgenre, but it's a good movie all the same. Denzel Washington delivers a strong performance as Eli, a road-weary traveller with a very special book in his possession. Set thirty years after nuclear annihilation (what they refer to as "the flash"), this film trots out some well-worn plot points, but still satisfies on the strength of the acting and the Hughes Brothers' ability to deliver a consistent "feel" to the film.
Shot in muted grays and light browns, the barren and scarred landscape plays an effective role in advancing story here. A pair of images still resonate with me a week later--one of a San Francisco skyline as broken as the teeth of the road hijackers, the other of an enormous crater in the California countryside. Highly stylized action sequences, shot in silhouette while Eli and his monster knife aerate the baddies, are well done, if not a little ridiculous. I'm reminded in one scene of the great artwork in Wizard and Glass (I think it's Michael Whelan, but I don't have my copy here with me), when Roland Deschain leaves a trail of the dead in his wake after a fierce gun battle. Absurd, but not unsatisfying after you see the way the hijackers kill innocents on the road.
Like the LOTR films and The Road before it, this is a familiar story. Exchange a ring for a King James Bible and Mordor for Frisco and you have it. Why are the heroes always walking in these films of the end times? Transience is the order of the day I guess, when almost everywhere you look is the process of returning to the dust.
There are some nice diversions along the way. There is a heart-warming scene of Eli listening to Al Green on an old i-pod, a great touch that really drives home what a world would be like without those small things we take for granted. There's a fantastic encounter with George and Martha, a couple of gun-hording cannibals that like to get down to ol' school disco.
And there's Mina Kunis, who is really turning in some fine performances. I thought she was disarming in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and I thought she was excellent here--suitably wide-eyed and courageous to help bring the film to its inevitable conclusion. She was so annoying as Jackie on That Seventies Show, which I guess just goes to show you how talented she is. I'm thankful that she has effectively destroyed that limiting impression I had of her...
I'd rate this one a solid 'B'. If you aren't a fan of post-apocalyptic dramas, then you'll probably want to wait for it on DVD. That said, if you like the way Denzel can carry a film on his shoulders and you're interested in seeing some fancy film making, this one is well worth a trip to the theater.
Oh, and Gary Oldman is in this too. Good--not great, and a little underdeveloped as someone we're supposed to loathe...