by Rob Gonsalves
There’s a wonderful gift tucked away near the end of "The Book of Eli" — a scene between Gary Oldman, who played the title role in 1992’s "Dracula," and Tom Waits, who played his Renfield.As I recall, the two strange gentlemen never actually got to act together in Dracula, so their screen time together here eighteen years later is overdue good news for fans of that film. I sat there wondering if, while sitting on the set of Eli, they’d shared war stories from their separate time on Dracula. What I wasn’t wondering was whether Waits’ character, a Mr. Fix-It, would succeed in opening a locked and valuable item for Oldman’s character, the scummy leader of a post-apocalyptic town. The actors’ past was more compelling to me than their present that I was watching.
"Welcome back, Hughes brothers. Pick a better story next time."
On a technical level, The Book of Eli is smooth and assured. It would almost have to be, with Allen and Albert Hughes (directing their first feature since 2001’s From Hell) behind the camera, aided by veteran cinematographer Don Burgess, who practically achieves a black-and-white film in color, and an oddball but evocative score by Atticus Ross. High marks to all. It’s the script, a first by Gary Whitta, that paints by the numbers and seems fed by too many post-bomb fantasies as well as the Sergio Leone movies, Lone Wolf and Cub, Zatoichi, and many others. Here we are again, after the big one drops, in the same bleached wasteland with the same scruffy, feral survivors.
At least Denzel Washington’s iconic hero Eli still has his iPod (which still works, even though it needs occasional recharging — what a product placement for Apple). Eli wanders the wasteland, heading west, carrying his precious book. Oldman’s character, Carnegie, wants the book; he feels it contains words that will give him greater control over people. (No, it’s not How to Win Friends and Influence People.) A girl from Carnegie’s town, the suspiciously unscruffy Solara (Mila Kunis), wants to tag along with Eli on the road. At one point they happen across a bizarre old couple (Michael Gambon and Frances de la Tour) whose idea of a turntable oldie is “Ring My Bell,” which tells you how far in the future we are. (If it had been something by Lady Gaga, the whole movie might’ve been redeemed.)
Since this isn’t a muy serioso post-apocalyptic piece like The Road, Eli gets in a lot of fights. He swings a mean sword, he’s a pretty crack shot, and he seems able to shrug off bullets because he’s “protected.” By whom? Oh, the author of the book he’s carrying. In fits and starts, The Book of Eli works as a dead-cool addition to the Lone Man Walks the Earth subgenre, though it cuts away too much to Oldman, overacting to alleviate his boredom, ranting to his doofus henchmen that he wants the book. We’re told that all copies were destroyed, because the book started the war that ended in ashes. (No, it wasn’t Twilight, with the battle between Team Edward and Team Jacob going nuclear.) My question: If the iPod is still around after the fire, why not audiobooks? The newer iPods even have book apps. If it had turned out that the book of Eli was actually tucked away on his iPod between Johnny Cash songs, it would’ve been a great finger in the eye to PC devotees; it would mean that divine power is on Steve Job’s side.But again, this is what I’m thinking about instead of the worn premise. It sure is a slick piece of iconography, though; let’s hope the Hughes brothers don’t stay away so long next time, or, if they do, let’s hope they spend some of that time looking for a better script.
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originally posted: 01/17/10 18:04:09