Water and Chap Stick may be difficult to come by in the post-apocalyptic world of The Book of Eli, but ammunition certainly is not. 2010’s first big-budget action film is all over the place in terms of emotions and intentions, but it’s still pretty entertaining and boasts some decent effects and appropriately (I think) over-the-top performances. The attempts at seriousness, however, fall flat.
Earth is a barren wasteland after some sort of catastrophic war. Thugs overrun towns and random acts of violence are a part of everyday life. We meet Eli (Washington), a drifter who is simply heading west because a voice told him to. He carries a shotgun and a machete and is efficient with both when confronted by undesirables. Eli’s main possession is a copy of the Holy Bible, and the book is the target of Carnegie (Oldman), a ruthless businessman who runs one of the few “towns” left.
Directors/brothers Albert and Allen Hughes don’t quite seem to know what kind of film they are making. The picture is deadly serious, almost to a fault, until a scene where Eli and his companion-in-action, Solara (Kunis), must seek refuge with an older couple. Then the one-liners and comedy get thrown in. The twist, while well-presented, will be very difficult for most to swallow unless there is true unconditional faith within the viewer. While Gary Whitta’s screenplay contains plenty of verse-quoting, this is not a picture that can really be taken seriously from a religious standpoint.
Denzel Washington turns in one of the most subdued performances of his career as the drifter. He’s effective in the role because he can change the entire tone of a scene with his deceptive smile, yet you never want to mess with him. Honestly, by the time he wipes out the third set of thugs you’d have to think he’s starting to gain a reputation. Gary Oldman, a born cinematic villain, takes the role with a grain of salt from the outset. It doesn’t take long for the overacting to kick in and he provides some much-needed respite from the heavy-handedness that constantly looms. The supporting performances are satisfactory, especially Mila Kunis as a young woman who turns on Carnegie.
The Book of Eli is an action film foremost, with every other aspect taking a notable backseat. In that respect, it gives action fans exactly what they’re looking for while never really aspiring for any type of greatness. A tighter script would have patched up the sudden mood swings, but the Hughes Brothers do deliver some terrific action set pieces and Denzel makes for a quality badass. Just don’t go in expecting a meaningful religious sermon on the Bible’s place in a post-apocalyptic world.
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Length: 118 Minutes
Rating: R for some brutal violence and language.
Theatrical Release: January 15, 2010
Directed by: Albert Hughes and Allen Hughes.
Written by: Gary Whitta
Cast: Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis, Ray Stevenson, Jennifer Beals