SC reviews: The Book of Eli

By Shu ChiangMovies - 15 March 2010 5:00 PM | Updated 5:42 PM

SC reviews: The Book of Eli

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Rating: 2.5 out of 5

While we wait for The Road, the adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic novel starring Viggo Mortensen, to arrive, here’s Denzel Washington taking on the ‘Mad Max’ genre in The Book of Eli, helmed by the American directing duo, the Hughes brothers.

In case you’ve forgotten, they’re the two that made the mediocre From Hell, which was based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore.

This film finds Eli (Denzel Washington) wandering a sepia-toned America. Civilization was destroyed 30 years ago and it seems Eli has been walking a long time. Feeding on hairless cats for sustenance, Eli is carrying a King James Bible, the last one on earth, westward to what he hopes will be salvation.  (All other bibles have apparently been destroyed during the days after the apocalypse).

When he arrives in a rundown town, bad guy/would-be dictator Carnegie (Gary Oldman) thinks the book is “a weapon aimed at the weak and desperate”, and intends to kill Eli for it.

A pity for Carnegie that Eli is not going to let the book go easily. Using guns, bows and a machete, Eli is an indomitable lone samurai/gunslinger.

The movie is a combination of genres that does occasionally work, particularly in the action scenes. However, these are few and far between.

The Hughes – Allen and Albert – who are also known for their debut work Menace II Society, are good at generating atmosphere, and some of the scenes evoke tableaus from Western movies of the 60s. But after setting the mood, they don’t seem to know what to do with it.

Despite its flaws, the film does feature strong performances from the cast, who try their best to take the movie’s proceedings seriously. Lone wolf Washington is pretty effective as a single-minded man driven by faith, and he overflows with intensity. 

His role in the film evokes Clint Eastwood’s old western movies; the pale rider emerging out of the wasteland with his own brand of justice and righteousness.

Oldman does not indulge in as much scene-chewing as he normally does, and Carnegie might be the most three-dimensional character in the movie. Ex-Flashdance star Jennifer Beals plays Carnegie’s wife Claudia, with rebellious daughter Solara (Mila Kunis) in tow.  Also, music fans might want to watch out for Tom Waits, last seen in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, in a bit role as an engineer.

Faith and bloodshed are certainly familiar partners throughout history, and the Hughes might be making a point about it here. Still, it’s all pretty muddled and the action is pretty much sporadic and short-lived. Considering Eli’s seeming invincibility, it’s also not too exciting.

The story also presents an audacious plot twist at the end that leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

The Book of Eli is a merely passable effort; a combination of genres that is never quite sure what it wants to be, and action fans will probably find this film wanting.

About Yong Shu Chiang
Yong Shu Chiang, otherwise known as SC, is a freelance editor and writer. He reviewed movies for Juice magazine when he was in college, and was the resident film reviewer for Today Newspaper from 2003 to 2005. He has also reviewed movies for Prime Time Morning on Channel NewsAsia.

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