The Book of Eli
Now Showing at: most major theaters.
Review by: Larry Thomas
It’s being said lately that Hollywood has lost its sense of originality; that most films are rehashes, remakes or reimaginings of previous properties. No current film is more representative of that theory than The Book of Eli. With pundits and cynics trumpeting worldwide gloom and doom, Hollywood is more than happy to jump on the band wagon by trotting out yet another riff on the post-apocalyptic saga that can incorporate elements of many, better films that will seem familiar to viewers.
The Book of Eli is set thirty years after a nuclear war has devastated the planet. Few people have survived, and those that are left are either scarred by the nuclear radiation, or have resorted to cannibalism. The landscape of the western United States is a pockmarked oblivion; barren, desolate, with craters indicative of where the bombs hit. Through this vision of misery walks our hero Eli, played by Denzel Washington. He’s very protective of a book he carries with him, and will do anything to protect it. His prowess with knife and gun is of mythic proportions.
Washington comes to a community ruled with an iron fist by Gary Oldman, who covets the book, believing that whoever possesses it will have absolute power over the populace that remains. That they will clash is a given.
It seems as if this is a major paycheck movie for all concerned. Directors Allen and Albert Hughes haven’t made a feature film since 2001’s From Hell, a seriously good Jack the Ripper movie with Johnny Depp as the detective hunting the legendary slasher. The Book of Eli is a predictable vision of a nihilistic future that cobbles together elements of the Mad Max films, the Terminator series, Spaghetti Westerns, and Samurai epics. Stars Denzel Washington and Gary Oldman bring nothing new to the table. Washington is his usual affable, but serious, self and Oldman chews the scenery as if he’s channeling any number of his previous roles.
Some of the supporting performers raise the level of interest with their appearances. Tom Waits is “Engineer,” a dealer in goods who makes the most of whatever technology is still left. Jennifer Beals is very good as the blind mistress of Oldman. And Irish actor Ray Stevenson is fine as Oldman’s next in command.
There are a couple of obvious references to other films to not only play up the fact that the Hughes Brothers are film savvy, but also to remind the viewer that there are other, better films they could be watching. Stevenson has a couple of scenes in which he whistles an Ennio Morricone theme from a Sergio Leone film. Washington is given shelter for a night in Oldman’s headquarters, an old, former movie theatre. His room is the defunct projection booth. Plastered on the wall is a tattered poster from 1976’s A Boy and His Dog, a very popular post-apocalyptic tale with similar themes.
In the end, though, The Book of Eli is just another religious parable in which the Christ-like comparison to Washington’s character is more than obvious. Running a couple of minutes short of two hours, this tiresome trudge feels more like four days, and is a film that is definitely not worth your time or money.
The R-rated The Book of Eli is now showing at the usual sus-plex.