Posted on Saturday, January 16th, 2010 at 7:24 am
Author: Mark Farnsworth
Another day, another apocalypse. This time it’s the turn of that sporadic directing team, the Hughes Brothers, to unleash the fire and brimstone upon the good ol’ US of A. The instrument of their vengeance isn’t exactly Jesus, but is the next best thing instead: Denzel Washington.
Armed to the teeth and rocking the last iPod in existence, Washington plays Eli, a super cool “walker” drifting west through chromium-tinted wasteland. Eli was born before the “the flash” and can read, a skill that makes him even more deadly than his head-popping prowess with a machete. Forget about “sticks n stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”; ross this guy and he’ll pummel you with everything he’s got.
Eli is guarding a mysterious book, one that he hopes will jumpstart humanity into a spiritual recovery. Seeing as it may be the cause of the wars that have left America looking like Iraq’s “Highway of Death,” this is surely a double-edged sword. Still, when has that ever deterred a door-to-door salesman with a product as good as this? When you’re right, you’re right. Right?
Gary Oldman’s scenery-chewing Carnegie thinks so. “It’s not a f*cking book, it’s a weapon,” he screams at his rent-a-goons. He lords it over the Wild West town that Eli strides into like the Oldman villains of legend, free from the shackles of a decade spent playing good guys, and boy is it great that he’s back. Carnegie is looking for what Eli’s got and doesn’t realise it’s right under his nose.
Carnegie knows the power of words, he needs them to build his empire. He desires the book to be his Mein Kampf or Communist Manifesto. He needs an “opium of the masses,” so he can rule over their ignorance. Carnegie does his best to barter with Eli, goods, and women, power, even his stepdaughter Solara is used to butter him up, but Eli isn’t selling. The obligatory violence ensues with a brutal shootout realised with such stunning sound design that it could take its place deservedly next to “Saving Private Ryan” and “Heat.”
“The Book of Eli” then evolves into a chase as Eli disappears into the wilds with Solara in tow, pursued by Carnegie and his heavy metal thugs led by the giant Redridge, “Rome’s” Ray Stephenson. Solara is a willing disciple, entranced by Eli’s words and stories about “before.” Eli tells her, “People had more than they needed.” We glimpse a badge that reads, “Hi, my name is Eli,” perhaps an indication that he once worked in the Mecca of consumerism that is Wal-Mart, or its like.
If the devil is in the details, then the Hughes Brothers are Satan’s little helpers, layering their movie with some neat touches. Eli bathes in KFC wipes, those non-degradable sundries that were the curse of the old world and are now useful beyond belief in the new. His iPod is the older kind, robust and perfectly functional (a metaphor for Denzel or Eli?), which attests to the fact that he wasn’t the type to buy the latest model every other year to service Apple’s hunger for world domination.
The Hughes Brothers have directed their most satisfying film to date. “The Book Of Eli” is a visually stunning action movie, with a perfectly serviceable brain on its shoulders. Just watch the camera as it follows a hail of bullets into a house, rounds on the defender’s conversation, and follows their retort of gunfire back to their attackers.
Towards the climax, a series of reveals make us take stock of what has gone before and demands a second viewing. “Because a man can see, he does not look,” says Master Po from “Kung-Fu,” the series that helped inspire “The Book of Eli” and a film of which could be the brothers’ next project.
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