The Book of Eli is one of the best movies of 2010. It’s a solid post-apocalyptic story that is wonderfully acted, artfully shot, and remarkably well-written. It may also be one of Denzel Washington’s best performances to date.
Here’s a peek:
Released January 15, 2010
Written by Gary Whitta
Directed by the Hughes brothers
Starring: Mila Kunis, Jennifer Beals, Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Michael Gambon, Ray Stevenson
* * * * *
The world is a destroyed, hot, bleak, savage, regressed place and Eli (Washington) is a nomad heading toward the west coast of what was once the USA. He holds a copy of the Bible, potentially the only copy left. He subsists on any creature, barring humans, he can kill and cans of food, reading the Bible every night and hoping to find batteries to help him listen to music.
Eli is an accomplished warrior, wreaking matter-of-fact and brutal havoc on anyone who tries to hurt or stop him. But he is also kind and lives by principle, and it is his merciful heart that exacerbates some trouble he gets in when he arrives in a town run by Carnegie (Oldman). It’s hard to imagine what Carnegie did before the apocalypse, because he’s obviously very suited to megalomania. Carnegie sees a spark of something interesting when Eli passes through his bar and kills a bunch of people who are trying to bully him.
So Carnegie takes Eli in and we meet Carnegie’s significant other, Claudia (Beals)n and Claudia’s daughter Solara (Kunis). Solara is foisted upon Eli to see if he wants her; he declines and Solara sees the sacred book. Now Carnegie, convinced that the book has the power to give him total power, wants it. But Eli knows that Carnegie is corrupt and vile.
We have a showdown as Eli, with Solara along for the ride, tries to escape from Carnegie’s men, led by Redridge (Stevenson), who carries a torch for Solara. The showdown is not the end of the film, because The Book of Eli is about much more than a wanderer who brings justice upon some bad guys. That’s pretty much any Clint Eastwood western.
The Book of Eli is more about what drives people to do what they do, what people are capable of when they’re devoted to a cause–rotten or noble. Watch for the ultimate reveal, then watch The Book of Eli again to see if the reveal makes sense.
The Book of Eli is an action film with a brain and some very smart and effective actors. The motivations of each character are powerfully visible and they make each character really interesting to watch.
The story arc is, on its face, fairly simple. Special wanderer making his way to a destination is waylaid by some baddies and wanderer has to bring down the fires of justice upon the baddies. As mentioned above, this story is fleshed out by Eli’s need to get to a certain place while keep in his sacred book safe, but also while helping some other people out of a bad situation. And the reveal, again the reveal, makes the story of the film all the richer.
The setting is delightfully bleak, with most everything visible in shades of sepia and gray. Washington, Oldman, and Beals deliver deep performances that give us a peak into a past of pain and adjustment to the horrible modern conditions.
Finally, the direction takes its time to let scenes develop. This adds a gravity to the movie and helps we viewers become fully wrapped up in this world.
The Book of Eli is not your normal post-apocalyptic film, despite plenty of homage paid to Mad Max. This movie is a might strong exploration of what it is to be human and what survival and thriving really mean.
Content warnings: brutal and sometimes graphic violence, some language.
Writing: 4.5 Acting: 5 Overall: 4.5
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