The Book of Eli gives us yet another post-apocalyptic end of the world saga. This time, Eli (Denzel Washington) walks through barren wasteland carrying a machete and a Bible. It's almost like Eli travels in the footsteps of Viggo Mortensen, who recently set down his own apocalyptic travelogue in The Road. With the washed-out landscape, deserted and decaying skyways, junked cars, rotting skeletons and onramps to nowhere, both have the feel of post nuclear Westerns. Shot in New Mexico with the Sony RED digital camera, Book of Eli, at the very least features some impressive massacre scenes.
In Eli, due to some divine intervention, the title character must walk "west." Referring to "before the flash," a holy war of sorts that blew up the sun, everyone now wears protective (and sometimes designer) sunglasses and no one person under 40 knows how to read or has ever seen a television. Water is scarce and people have turned to cannibalism, but it's all about Eli and his journey. This includes fending off marauding Road Warrior-like thugs (who rape, murder and pillage around every turn), dispatching people with his mystical fighting skills, ending up in a town that resembles a post-apocalyptic Deadwood, adopting an apprentice against his better judgment, going head - to-head with an evil villain and, of course, spreading the gospel. Eli, a true Bible thumper, severs limbs and decapitates with a ninja assassin's flair while trying to remain righteous. Eli doesn't turn the other cheek, but he will chop one off.
Denzel Washington's Eli is all bottled up intensity and pain. Avid reader/gangster Carnegie (Gary Oldman doing a strangely introverted manic cartoon villain) runs the thriving town and rules the lives of blind mother Claudia (Jennifer Beals) and daughter Solara (Mila Kunis, who still looks like she's in That 70s Show). Carnegie's desire to obtain the bible and its mystical power it contains goes turbo and Eli's demise becomes his obsession.
Feeling like celluloid graphic-novel - and reminiscent of Kurosawa's samurai tale Yojimbo - Book of Eli was penned by first-time writer Gary Whitta with a genuine twinge of originality hidden under all the blatant stereotypes and formulaic trappings.
Directors Albert and Allen Hughes (Dead Presidents, American Pimp, From Hell) have always been able to deliver a honed vision in their own signature style. The bleak sepia dominates almost every scene, letting us nearly feel the unforgiving sun. The photography is constantly mesmerizing and the key shootout scene at a elderly couple's home uses some of the most inventive camera work I've ever seen. Zooming in with the gunfire, the camera focuses on flying bullets, people ducking and/or getting shot then dizzyingly revolving around through a window straight into the muzzle of the Gatling gun.
The weird and awesome electronic score by Atticus Ross, Claudia Sarne and Leopold Ross was easily one of the best features of this film. It's interesting how strong the pro-Bible theme is here. It seems that this might drive religious groups crazy, but Eli proves to be more upbeat than spiritual. Yet in spite of all the religious posturing, I would've stayed another 30 minutes.
The Book of Eli ★★1/2✩✩
Starring Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis, Ray Stevenson, Jennifer Beals, Tom Waits. Directed by The Hughes Brothers. Rated R.