Written by J.T. Johnson
The Hughes brothers, whose previous works include “Menace II Society” and “From Hell”, return with a post-apocalyptic tale with a fantastic western-style structure and plenty of interesting visuals along the way.
Denzel Washington stars as Eli, a man who possesses a book that he thinks can bring back civility to the world. He is on a quest to bring the book to a place he believes will protect it. Along the way, he stops in a small makeshift town run by Carnegie (Gary Oldman), a man who is searching for a book that he discovers is the very thing that Eli has in his possession.
Carnegie will stop at nothing to get the book to further his own needs, even sending in Solara (Mila Kunis) to seduce Eli. Soon, though, the two join forces and the chase is on to see who will gain the knowledge the book contains.
The story is also a set up for some great action sequences and thought provoking material about what humanity would do to keep on surviving in an apocalyptic world. The film has a character similar to Mad Max in “The Road Warrior”. Eli is a drifter who reluctantly helps others and tries desperately to stay on his own quest.
He is a loner who does not really say much until later in the film when Solara joins him on his journey. Washington turns in a wonderful performance. He understands that Eli is not only a loner but a man dedicated to his path and he doesn’t hold back when someone tries to get in his way. It was also refreshing to actually be able and see the actor do the action scenes himself rather than using an obvious stunt double.
And speaking of the action, there is really not a whole lot in the film. The movie slowly sets up tense confrontations that eventually come to a violent yet quick end. In a world where action films contain explosions and car chases every two seconds, it was great to see a film that took its time to set up the story first and address the action second.
As stated above, the film definitely has a western vibe to it. Eli walks into town and is almost immediately assaulted by the lowlifes and the corrupt mayor played by Oldman, a true chameleon actor. They want Eli’s possessions and he can’t begin to trust any of them.
Like his previous roles, no one in the audience sees Oldman or any of his previous characters in the performance. Oldman makes a good choice of making Carnegie come off as a mad preacher who acts like he wants to save his flock but really just wants to expand his own devious intentions.
The movie is also the first film directed by the Hughes brothers since 2001’s “From Hell”. They do a good job here except for a few moments in the first half where the usually appropriate slow pace becomes a distraction. Also, they could have cut down on showing the audience another scene of Washington walking in slow motion.
One thing the directors did do correctly was the action when it does occur. Not only do they appear when necessary, they are small and sweet instead of big and loud. Also, the audience can actually see the fights. They don’t follow that close-up crap like other blockbuster films have come to embrace.
“The Book of Eli” has a few small distractions, but in the end, it is a good start to any audience member’s 2010 viewing experience.