Monday, January 18, 2010

Movie Review: The Book of Eli

The Book of Eli ***
Directed By:
Albert & Allan Hughes.
Written By: Gary Whitta.
Starring: Denzel Washington (Eli), Gary Oldman (Carnegie), Mila Kunis (Solara), Ray Stevenson (Redridge), Jennifer Beals (Claudia), Evan Jones (Martz), Joe Pingue (Hoyt), Frances de la Tour (Martha), Michael Gambon (George), Tom Waits (Engineer).

It has been nine years since the Hughes Brothers made a movie. There first film, Menace II Society, was one of the best debuts of the decade. The followed that up with the underrated Vietnam era crime drama Dead Presidents, made the interesting documentary American Pimp and then the visually stunning, but dramatically uneven From Hell in 2001. Since then, it has mainly been silence from the brothers. The Book of Eli marks their return, and like their last film, it is visually great. Denzel Washington anchors the story in a kind of realism that is needed for this type of movie as well. Dramatically, the film is uneven, and the end of the movie struck a false note for me. Overall though, The Book of Eli is better than most action films that get released in January.

The story takes places 30 years after a war has decimated most of the world, and “tore a hole in the sky”, making it impossible for people to go out into the world with eye protection. Eli (Washington) walks a lonely road west. When he is confronted by a gang of would be muggers and robbers, he dispatches them quickly, with his huge knife, and walks on. Eventually, he comes across a town, and stops for the night to get some supplies. Again, he is beset on by muggers, and again, he dispatches them with lightning speed and a lot of blood. This brings him to the attention of Carnegie (Gary Oldman), the corrupt leader of the town. He could use someone like Eli. Eli, however is not interested, even when Carnegie sends the beautiful Solara (Mila Kunis) to try and seduce him. But Solara still comes back with valuable information for Carnegie. Eli has a book – the same book that Carnegie has been searching for. No points if you guess what book it is.

As an action movie, The Book of Eli works wonderfully well. The scenes are shot and cut with style to spare, but never devolve into the rapid fire editing that makes many modern action movies incomprehensible. The whole movie has a wonderful visual look and feel – not a million miles off of what John Hillcoat did with his recent adaptation of The Road – a similarly themed movie. The absence the Hughes brothers took from filmmaking certainly did not dull their visual senses.

For much of its running time, The Book of Eli functions well as a guilty pleasure. Washington is an actor we instinctively trust and like, and he carries the movie with his dead pan delivery. I think he may have watched some Clint Eastwood westerns to get the “man with no name” character just right. Oldman is wonderfully over the top as the villain, cackling villainously, and chewing scenery. Kunis is sweet, vulnerable and sexy as Solara. And in small roles, Tom Waits leaves an impression as a jittery engineer, and Michael Gambon and Frances de la Tour contribute memorable cameos as a married couple, who are also cannibals.

The ending of the movie struck me as false and phony. The final scenes in the movie don’t really work. You know what the book is well before anyone actually tells you what it is, but I had a hard believing accepting the fact that it was the only one left, and the other stuff that happens in the end (which, also, unfortunately draws a direct parallel between itself and Children of Men, a vastly superior movie in the same vein).

But overall, The Book of Eli is an entertaining movie. It is well made, well acted, and until the last act, well written. Welcome back Hughes brothers. No go make another masterpiece.

No comments:

Post a Comment