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6 reviews, 19 user ratings

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Book of Eli, The
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Deja Vu"
2 stars

Remember a few months ago when the good people at the Weinstein Company, faced with the challenge of promoting the ultra-grim drama “The Road,” chose to put together a trailer that featured virtually every single one of the film’s few action beats in the hopes of convincing audiences that it was a thrill-a-minute epic featuring fights, chases, creepy villains and a fabulous-looking babe and not an exceptionally dour melodrama about a man and his son wandering the blasted-out landscape while slowly starving to death? Well, those annoyed by that chicanery will be pleased, at least for a few minutes to know that “The Book of Eli” is more or less the film that was promised by that trailer in that it is about a lone man trekking across the ruins of America that prefers to wallow in cartoonish action than in abject misery. The trouble is that the film as a whole is largely one trip to the poisoned post-apocalyptic well too many and both the crushing familiarity of the material and the oppressively self-serious approach taken by filmmakers Allen & Albert Hughes (making their first feature since 2001’s “From Hell”) wind up overwhelming the few bright spots scattered about the terrain.

Thirty years after a cataclysmic event that destroyed most of civilization and transformed many of the survivors into filthy and illiterate scavengers reduced to murder and cannibalism in order to survive, a lone man, Eli (Denzel Washington), is walking west on a mission, laid out for him by voices in his head, to transport what may be the last Bible on Earth (the rest having been destroyed years earlier when it was blamed for the apocalypse--alas, “The Da Vinci Code” managed to survive) to some unknown destination. The intimation is that he is on a mission from God and that certainly seems to be the case whenever he winds up battling a large group of scuzzballs--he is able to dispatch all of them single-handedly with only a few flicks of his trusty sword and enough camera tricks and quick edits to disguise when his stunt man takes over. Eventually, Eli winds up in a small town run by the ironically-named Carnegie (Gary Oldman), a man whose iron-clad rule is based only on his knowledge of a precious nearby water source and who also yearns to acquire a Bible in the hopes that its words will allow him to fully control the people and expand his empire--though the exact details of how he plans to do this are never quite explained. When Carnegie discovers what Eli has in his possession, he tries to convince him by any means necessary to turn it over and when that doesn’t work out, he and his remaining heaven go off in pursuit of Eli, who is now joined on his trip by Solara (Mila Kunis), Carnegie’s rebellious stepdaughter and a gal who refuses to let the end of the world get in the way of looking as fashionable as possible.

The essential problem with “The Book of Eli” is that there is nothing on display here that hasn’t been seen before in countless other post-apocalyptic melodramas stretching back to the numerous variations on the theme that Charlton Heston used to crank out like clockwork back in the day. The Hughes Brothers and debuting screenwriter Gary Whitta are clearly familiar with this particular subgenre--the film is filled with references and allusions to past films of this type--but they are merely content to repeat what they (and everyone else) have seen before rather than try to make their own unique mark. The storyline is just as flat and colorless as the visual style but nowhere near as striking and what is especially disappointing and frustrating is that it keeps offering suggestions of how it could have been improved and then refuses to heed any of them. It is established early on that very few of the survivors remember what the world was like “before” and since both Eli and Carnegie are among them and share similar goals, you expect that the screenplay might play up the two-sides-of-the-same-coin aspect and develop more of a relationship between them. Instead, the script loses its sense of nerve and ambition and just turns into one long chase scene punctuated by fight scenes that are so overly stylized that viewers will be more impressed by the skills of the editing team than of the stunt performers. Another key flaw to the film is its relentlessly grim approach to the material--despite the fact that it is essentially a pulp comic book come to life, it takes itself way too seriously for its own good and the few points where it does go for a lighter touch only serve to highlight just how oppressively dour the rest of it is. This is most evident during the final scenes in which we are treated to the inevitable ironic twist meant to blow our minds a la “Planet of the Apes.” Actually, the twist here is reasonably inspired in theory but it hasn’t been executed particularly well and viewers are left with a scene that should have been an instant classic but which just misses the target.

Speaking of missing the target, that is also what Denzel Washington does with his performance as Eli. An innately charming and charismatic actor, even when playing otherwise unlikable characters, he tries to dial back on those aspects in order to play a character more along the taciturn ranks of The Man With No Name or Mad Max (to cite two of the most obvious examples) but it just doesn’t quite work and the result is a performance that is so closed-in and self-serious that his character quickly crosses the line from “mysterious loner” to “unlikable jerk” and it becomes virtually impossible to work up any rooting interest for him. (It is ironic that a character who is essentially charged with rescuing humanity should display so little of it himself.) Luckily, some of the supporting players manage to pick up some of the slack and invest the film with its few sparks of genuine life. Gary Oldman, for example, seems to understand that the film, for all its pretensions, is essentially a big bucket of cheese and therefore turns in an agreeably over-the-top bit of scenery chewing, an approach that is all the more impressive when you consider that there is hardly any scenery around to chew. As the proprietor of one of the last remaining stores in existence, the inimitable Tom Waits blesses the film with his brand of holy cool and even manages to lure Washington out of his shell to play in a scene that is the highlight of the entire thing because it is the only real example of actors playing off of each other instead of taking turns reciting portentous dialogue. Later in the proceedings, there is a hilarious appearance by Michael Gambon and Frances de la Tour as a weirdo couple living in the middle of nowhere that provides a jolt of energy at just the moment when it is needed most. And while she doesn’t really have much of anything to do, the mere presence of Jennifer Beals as Oldman’s wife and Kunis’ mother is more than welcome. Now that I think of it, any post-apocalyptic scenario that includes the presence of both Tom Waits and Jennifer Beals is enough to take a lot of the sting out of the whole end-of-the-world thing.

“The Book of Eli” isn’t a bad film as much as it is a dead one. Plenty of time, talent and money has clearly been lavished on it and while it may more or less work on a technical level, it lacks the kind of spark needed to fully bring it to life. If only the filmmakers had figured out a way to put a new spin on the material or, barring that, if they had managed to put it out at a time when there wasn’t such a glut on films of this sort, it might have somehow worked. As it is, “The Book of Eli” may be about the end of the world as we know it but most viewers will be more interested in getting to the end of the film instead.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=19079&reviewer=389
originally posted: 01/15/10 00:00:00
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User Comments

9/13/17 morris campbell pretty good 4 stars
4/05/11 sean4 Go its hooks in me and i cldnt take my eyes off of it. 4 stars
1/14/11 Peter North Solear was bonerific. Should have been 40 dead cats! 4 stars
1/09/11 Edler Bad casting - female lead sounds like a spoiled princess 3 stars
11/19/10 mr.mike More like "The Postman" than "Mad Max". 3 stars
9/21/10 The Stick that Slaps Very good movie. 5 stars
9/06/10 millersxing walking in the valley of the shadow of death...gripping 5 stars
8/29/10 daveyt less bleak than 'the road' but very similar. Enjoyable though 4 stars
6/18/10 action movie fan slow sluggish walking through futuristic ruins-little stoyr 2 stars
6/17/10 othree Oldman no Dracula, Eli was blind? wth ...right... 2 stars
6/16/10 gc Plot keeps you involved throughout, great ending, overall a very original film 5 stars
2/03/10 DEMISLITELMUS GReat movie 5 star! dont care what anyone says 5 stars
1/29/10 Man Out 6 Bucks Sequel Ezekiel 4:12 Eat shit, drink piss or burn in hell 1 stars
1/29/10 damalc "Minus one * for the cat violence," but 40 dead people is ok? 4 stars
1/25/10 John Foster This film is absolute trip. Wish i didn't bother. 1 stars
1/21/10 Ming Denzel did a good job as Eli..The plot is kind of week 3 stars
1/17/10 Jeff Wilder Denzel's good, cinematography good, plot twists a little too much. 4 stars
1/17/10 KingNeutron Minus one * for the cat violence, otherwise a fairly strong movie - good to see Denzel 3 stars
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  15-Jan-2010 (R)
  DVD: 15-Jun-2010

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