film review: THE BOOK OF ELI


It’s been nine years since the last narrative film from twin directors Allen and Albert Hughes, and while the trailers for The Book of Eli looked promising—if not a bit grim—I would have hoped that after nearly a decade, the brothers could have delivered a better film. That’s not to say that The Book of Eli is bad, because it’s not. But with a script that is an under-developed mix of ideas and imagery cobbled together from other movies, an uneven pace, and characters that lack dimension as much as they lack charisma, it’s not exactly of good movie either.

Denzel Washington stars as Eli, a lone drifter wandering the desolated wasteland of post-apocalyptic America, a depressing endless stretch of crumbling ruins. It has been thirty-one years since the war “tore a hole in the sky,” and there isn’t much left, save for cannibals who wait to ambush travelers like Eli, and the sad inhabitants of makeshift towns like the one lorded over by the nefarious Bill Carnegie (Gary Oldman). On a holy mission to go west for reasons that aren’t quite clear, Eli passes through Carnegie’s town, and of course he isn’t looking for trouble. But because Eli is a cross between the anti-heroes of countless spaghetti westerns and more than a few Japanese samurai movies, trouble finds him. When Eli dispatches some of Carnegie’s goons, and then refuses to come to work for the rather one-dimensional villain, things go from bad to worse. But when Carnegie discovers Eli has a copy of the Bible, things get even worse. It seems all the copies of the holy book were burned after the war, and Eli has the only known copy in existence. Carnegie wants the Bible, feeling it is the ultimate weapon in controlling the masses and keeping him in power as the new leader of the devastated countryside. The problem is that God himself delivered the book unto Eli, and gave him the vague mission of taking it out west. And of course, this leads to a violent showdown between Eli and Carnegie’s small army of killers.

Borrowing heavily from a list of movies that includes The Road Warrior, Children of Men, A Boy and His Dog and a ton of spaghetti westerns and samurai flicks, The Book of Eli is a grim message of Christian-based hope wrapped in a mix of violence and depressing imagery. The film moves at an uneven pace which, when there isn’t a kick-ass action sequence, is simply too slow. The film is visually compelling—the Hughes Brothers’ greatest strength as directors—and Denzel Washington certainly makes for an impressive looking iconic hero, but that’s about all the good the movie has to offer. Oldman’s villain is as by-the-numbers as bad guys get, and yet he is overflowing depth and dimension compared to the moving cardboard that passes for his henchmen (Ray Winstone is especially wasted in a flat, thankless role).

The weak link of The Book of Eli is a script that lacks depth or gonads. Writer Gary Whitta has crafted a screenplay that feels like it was either based on a short story or influenced by an episode of The Twilight Zone, which never really delivers too much by way of substance. The result is a film that feels like a good idea that wasn’t developed as good as it could have been.

The Book of Eli has some solid moments—all of them being violent and action packed—but it never completely comes together. It is a largely unoriginal movie that pays homage to a number of recognizable influences, but more often than not comes across like a pale imitation of the other films it is referencing. Neither the story nor the world it takes place in feels fully developed, which makes it difficult to connect with the movie as a whole. All of this leaves you with a movie that is peppered with entertaining moments and concepts that are not held together with any sort of real connective tissue, resulting in a film that has little lasting resonance or impact.


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