The Book Of Eli

Director    Albert Hughes, Allen Hughes
Starring    Denzel Washington, Mila Kunis, Gary Oldman, Jennifer Beals, Michael Gambon
Release    15 JAN (US) 15 JAN (UK)    Certificate 15
3 stars


23rd January 2010

Perhaps it's a reflection on the slightly darker times we live in, but cinema has come over all post-apocalyptic as we enter 2010: vampires preying on the few remaining living in Daybreakers; Viggo Mortensen battling for survival in a grim new world in The Road; and the forthcoming Legion will feature a retelling of the end of days. So much for entering the New year with a sense of optimism. The Book Of Eli furrows all too familiar post-apocalyptic territory with a grim vision of the future that is entirely bland and rather phoney.

Denzel Washington, in downbeat and deadpan mode as Eli - giving the plot a gravitas it doesn't really deserve - strides towards the West in an America devastated, in his words, by 'a flash'. He's on a quest to deliver the wistful words of 'The Book' and to help the survivors out of the darkness. It's a book that is also sought after by the power-seeking megalomaniac Carniege (Gary Oldman), who sees the lost text as a way of becoming all powerful over the people. Will Washington's character Eli complete his mission or will the ill-will of Carniege conquer all?

The Book Of Eli is an old Western B-movie thinly disguised as a dystopian vision of a post-nuclear future. The near monochromatic visuals are starved of colour and the saloon bar settings in depressed shanty towns, where the residents of this world etch out a living, look like they have been rained on by falling grey ash.

Directors Albert and Allen Hughes' vision seems inauthentic, though; the visuals are too highly stylized to be gritty, whilst the alleged rags the characters are clothed in could pass for rustic fashion in a high street store - it's not long before you start to feel survivors of the apocalypse have never had it so good. Most of the characters even wear remarkably well persevered aviator sunglasses. It's hardly the most gruelling trawl through the post fall-out world.

[gallery]Denzel Washington's rambling man is a righteous evangelist; this means of course he has free reign to beat the living daylights out of any oily-teethed rogue who stands in his path. He's constantly engaged in gun-slinging and machete-wielding showdowns with various posses of villains; incredulously, he displays fighting abilities of an almost superhero level. But it's okay if he kills them all, you know, cos he's following the good book. The directors try hard to convince us that the action scenes are just a means to deliver the religious message, with a portentous, near preachy tone. By the end however, the film is transparent as a beat 'em up wearing pious clothing.

In fairness to the film, it does at least deliver its religious message with an even hand. There's a suggestion that religious texts can, on the one hand in Washington's case, empower people. But on the other, they can take power away from the people, as demonstrated by the lust for control by Oldman's tyrant. Another point that redeems the film is the bartering culture that exits in this vision, in which items we'd deem to be trash become precious commodities; food for thought considering our disposable culture.

Washington is solid enough, appearing as a wise presence in a world full of cut-throat scavengers and Oldman supplies some much needed wildness to alleviate the dourness. You'd be forgiven for thinking that actress Mila Kunis has just strolled in from New Moon as she seems entirely out of place here. "What was the old world like?" she weakly enquires - sorry girl, you're just too much of a product of our times to convince as a child born after the apocalypse.

So does Washington complete his quest to get to the West? Well, the last act is quite frankly all over the place: you're left wondering if Eli's effort walking all that distance was worth it. Equally unsatisfying is a little twist on the idea of blind faith that'll leave you shaking your head and muttering. Think of your own ending and the chances are it'll convince more than Hughes' choice.

Bullets fly and scripture is spouted, but strip away the religious overtones and all you are left with is a basic narrative rehashed from other movies.

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