Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Book Of Eli (2010)

"I walk by faith - not by sight...."

- Thirty-one years after the last major war scorched the earth and obliterated just about every living thing, throwing human civilization back an age or two, the mysterious Eli walks westward- by faith, not by sight. Eli is on a journey across a dangerous and unforgiving land full of rapists, cannibals, and thieves carrying a book that will change the world forever. En route westward, he runs into Carnegie, the crooked tyrant of a small town who is looking for that same book that Eli carries – but, unlike Eli, he desires the book for evil in the hope that it will expand his violent, oppressive power. Together with Carnegie's slave Solara, Eli must protect the book at all costs – for humanity's sake.

The Book Of Eli resonated with me right from the word "go" because I am a sucker for post-apocalyptic tales in general. Albert and Allen Hughes (From Hell (2001)), filmmakers who were previously unknown to me, direct the film to great effect. Wielding a wonderful sense of style, the Hughes Brothers create a dark but visually splendid film world (as all post-apocalyptic worlds should be) that echoes both science fiction as well as western motifs.

The film is also teeming with very exciting action sequences that are handled superbly by the Hughes Brothers. In an industry that sees more films littered with action that lack style these days, The Book Of Eli is incredibly refreshing through the way that the Hughes Brothers stylishly and creatively film their action scenes (I especially enjoyed a silhouetted skirmish seen early on in the film).

Of course, The Book Of Eli is more than the action and visuals and the Hughes Brothers also score high when it comes to telling the thoughtful and emotional story. Some of the most powerful scenes are those that actually include no dialogue – which is just an example of great directing. Dropping the ball a couple of times with the occasional poorly realized cheesy scene, the Brothers, overall, deserve great credit for a their stylish and exciting way with visuals and the overall thoughtful and atmospheric feel that they convey.

The featured acting is also a hit. Mila Kunis and Jennifer Beals stand out with strong performances and Gary Oldman does what Gary Oldman does best: playing a colorful villain. The supporting performances are good but star Denzel Washington is absolutely terrific in the film, giving one of his finest performances with a subtle and extraordinary compelling portrayal of the mysterious Eli. The character of Eli is a tremendously physical part for Washington and not just in terms of the action. Washington impresses as Eli far less through the way he handles the action scenes (though Washington certainly hits the action scenes out of the park, studying martial arts under one of Bruce Lee's protégés for the role) and far more through the way that he paints a layered character for us all on screen with very little words but remarkable presence and unspoken depth.

A story that had to take guts to tell in Hollywoodland (an environment which probably holds Emperor Nero in higher esteem than Billy Graham), The Book Of Eli holds more than just heavy Christian undertones: God is basically a character in the film and characters are actually caught on-screen praying! The idea that the Word of God is needed in the world permeates throughout the whole film; and amongst the dark themes and violence that makes sense in the post-apocalyptic world there is a hope that because God *is* good and in control - always - evil, though it exists, will always loose to the will of God. Many will write off The Book Of Eli because of its Christian message (it's interesting how movies with Christian messages are "propaganda" but movies like V For Vendetta (2006) are "spectacular" and "genius") but I found The Book Of Eli to be a thoughtful, stylish, exciting, and well-acted post-apocalyptic action thriller.

CBC Rating: 8/10

No comments: