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Overall Rating

Awesome: 7.27%
Worth A Look43.64%
Average: 30.91%
Pretty Bad: 14.55%
Total Crap: 3.64%

6 reviews, 19 user ratings

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Book of Eli, The
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by Erik Childress

"Allan & Albert, Stick Around This Time"
4 stars

Apocalyptic loners have been a mainstay on the cinematic scene for years. From Mad Max to Cormac McCarthy, the idea of a man with his own principles fighting to survive in a world gone desperate has an appeal if you can stomach the grimy pessimism surrounding him. On the other hand perhaps it is the hope that arrives with a man of no name, preaching or putting into action the belief that good can always triumph over evil. Almost wandering out of the darkness themselves are brothers Allan & Albert Hughes, who made a splash with their debut feature Menace II Society in 1993 and have been shockingly off the scene since 2001's Jack the Ripper adaptation, From Hell. In that time we have seen flourishes from new wunderkinds like Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder and it's a shame there has not been a couple sprinkles of the Hughes' creativity thrown into the mix for the better part of a decade. For these are two guys who know how to make a movie. They may not be perfect ones, but one can't deny it is not for a lack of effort.

Set some 31 years "after the flash" in an unnamed time, Eli (Denzel Washington) does what all walkers do in this land of cold and ash - search for food and some quiet shelter to listen to his iPod. When his batteries run down he takes to the road again until finding the nearest Bartertown where fresh water is abundant. Where there is value though, there is always someone able to control it. In this case it is Carnegie (Gary Oldman) who has been sending out his scouts to find new books at all costs. Unthrilled with the latest batch including The Da Vinci Code and Oprah's magazine ("Burn 'em," he says), Carnegie is obsessed with finding a very specific book. One that he grew up with. One that Eli just happens to possess.

As Eli says grace and quotes some lengthy verse before massacring troublemakers, even the atheists in the audience will recognize that he's carrying a Bible with him. Unsuccessfully offering Eli a position on his staff, he sends barmaid Solara (Mila Kunis) to change his mind. When she comes back trying to thank a higher power for the food they are about to eat, Carnegie changes his. Deemed the last one in existence - as some speculate it was fuel for the flash and thus burned in effigy afterwards - the book's value is measured in broad strokes by the power hungry Carnegie (whom we first meet reading a book on Mussolini.) Thus begins the hunt through the valley of death.

Recalling the simplicity of the plot down to what can't even be called a chase picture until the second hour is unfair to what keeps the film afloat even through its less-than-inspired passages. The Hughes' visual style is impeccable throughout. From the first quiet moments of a dead forest through the constant grey skys that don't have the intentionally superficial look of 300, their apocalypse has an enveloping feel to it. That murky nothingness is then enhanced by hyper-realized action sequences that reach into a bag of cinematic tricks from The Matrix to Children Of Men. A humorous sidetrip to a farmhouse (with no less a reference to Motel Hell) becomes the kind of excitingly innovative shootout that Michael Bay thought he was doing in Bad Boys II and only succeeded in making the audience nauseous.

The religious implications of the film unlikely will cause such a reaction, but it's an all-or-nothing kind of proposition that either has us wanting to hear more of a discussion or to just shut up completely. Just as we hope Oldman's Carnegie is going to be a bit more level-headed a villain - an avid reader who calmly delights his mistress (Jennifer Beals) with shampoo - he gets the big speech about "the book" being a weapon. Oldman is always a joy to watch at his most maniacal (there are more than a few parallels to The Professional here) but Gary Whitta's screenplay rather plays him to the extreme. Consequently, Washington's Eli could have been just the embodiment of a random chosen one who has seen the book's evils in the wrong hands. Instead he's a traveler tasked to this mission by a mysterious voice who says to go west, old man. A little theological grey area (or matter) would have been a nice match for the film's sky from whence it came.

The denouement might be enough to push the non-believers over the edge. No bursts of light or burning bushes (although a nice ironic touch a la Raiders of the Lost Ark is in store) but prophets and martyrs alike preaching the word to a late cameo appearance plays a heavy hand of God to a distracting degree. A final revelation in the realm of the one-eyed king will have you thinking back if the brothers managed to keep the cheats to a minimum, if not immediately hooking interest to book the film for another viewing date later. The Book of Eli might not be action-packed and is not entirely "a thinking man's action film" but finds an appropriate bridge between the allure of bloody violence and seeking a higher power - for entertainment value and certainly not spiritual hypocrisy. With maybe a better architect on the screenplay side, the Hughes brothers certainly have the tools to make the next Children of Men provided they don't go into hibernation until fertility becomes extinct. Of course, in a perfect world they would be triumphing over the Michael Bays and Roland Emmerichs in the blockbuster hellscape out there.

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originally posted: 01/15/10 16:00:00
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User Comments

9/14/17 morris campbell pretty good 4 stars
4/06/11 sean4 Go its hooks in me and i cldnt take my eyes off of it. 4 stars
1/15/11 Peter North Solear was bonerific. Should have been 40 dead cats! 4 stars
1/10/11 Edler Bad casting - female lead sounds like a spoiled princess 3 stars
11/20/10 mr.mike More like "The Postman" than "Mad Max". 3 stars
9/22/10 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
8/30/10 daveyt less bleak than 'the road' but very similar. Enjoyable though 4 stars
6/19/10 action movie fan slow sluggish walking through futuristic ruins-little stoyr 2 stars
6/18/10 othree Oldman no Dracula, Eli was blind? wth ...right... 2 stars
6/17/10 gc Plot keeps you involved throughout, great ending, overall a very original film 5 stars
2/04/10 DEMISLITELMUS GReat movie 5 star! dont care what anyone says 5 stars
1/30/10 Man Out 6 Bucks Sequel Ezekiel 4:12 Eat shit, drink piss or burn in hell 1 stars
1/30/10 damalc "Minus one * for the cat violence," but 40 dead people is ok? 4 stars
1/26/10 John Foster This film is absolute trip. Wish i didn't bother. 1 stars
1/22/10 Ming Denzel did a good job as Eli..The plot is kind of week 3 stars
1/18/10 Jeff Wilder Denzel's good, cinematography good, plot twists a little too much. 4 stars
1/18/10 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

  15-Jan-2010 (15)

  15-Apr-2010 (MA)
  DVD: 15-Jun-2010

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