I really dislike dirty movies.
No, I’m not talking about pornographic films, although I don’t have any use for them either. I mean movies in the post-apocalyptic genre. Films in this category feature barren landscapes, decaying car carcasses, empty shells of buildings, and people who look as if they haven’t bathed in 10 or 15 years.
“The Book of Eli” is one of these dingy, depressing films, and despite the presence of Academy Award winner Denzel Washington, it’s pretty much of a dud. The only purpose I can think of for this film is to show it to people who think the world is a miserable place because it should certainly improve their outlook on life.
The film is set in the near future approximately 30 years after a war that has decimated the earth. As it opens, we watch one man make his way through the landscape littered with dead bodies and crawling with feral cats that feed on them, and Eli (Washington) in turn kills and roasts the cats for his nourishment. Sound like fun so far?
As the movie progresses, we learn that Eli has been on the road for 30 years, and his mission is to deliver a very important book to somewhere in the West. Now despite the rampant ruination, Eli isn’t the only survivor. His world is populated by marauding gangs, and all of these people, including Elli, are in desperate need of a shower.
As Eli continues his cross-country trek, he often encounters those who would try to rob him, but he is an incredibly strong and gifted warrior with both the bow and the blade, and he is a guy you do not want to challenge. However, in one shell of a town lives a man named Carnegie (Gary Oldman), who has set himself up as the lord and ruler of a ruthless gang, and he wants the book that Eli carries with him. This establishes the basic conflict in the film as Carnegie dispatches his thugs to relieve Eli of his burden. Living with Carnegie is his adopted stepdaughter, Solara (Mila Kunis), and the fact that she, through a series of circumstances too numerous to mention here, ends up traveling with Eli heightens the tension between Eli and Carnegie.
“The Book of Eli” offers some nicely choreographed fight sequences and a few interesting (not spectacular) special effects, but overall the film no better than mediocre, and Washington’s talents are virtually wasted. Washington is the consummate professional, however, and the production notes reveal that he spent months in training so that he would not need to use a stunt double during the fight scenes.
When I watch a movie focusing on one character, I like to know as much as possible about that person, but in this film we really don’t learn anything about Eli or the genesis of his mission. But in the film’s production notes, director Allen Hughes (“From Hell”) said that the mystery surrounding Eli is intentional.
“A character like Eli, the enigmatic lone warrior, is almost mythical. You know there’s a rich back story, but it shouldn’t be entirely revealed, and Denzel was conscientious about doing little things that would shed light into his past without spelling it out. One of his ideas was for Eli to bear a burn scar on his back as a mark of the catastrophe he has survived. He was very good at painting in those kinds of details that would add to Eli’s mystique.”
Perhaps the most glaring weakness in this movie (Let’s give it a 5.) is the big twist at the ending. It is such a stretch that it’s more laughable than it is surprising.
Now of course one of the questions in the film revolves around the mysterious tome that Eli has been lugging around for 30 years. If you really think about it, you can probably figure it outs, but I’m not going to tell you what it is. Let’s just say that Carnegie thinks the book holds the secret to controlling all of mankind. Oh yes, it also is supposed to be the last copy on earth.
Obviously there’s a market for films like this because Hollywood continues to make them, but I can’t find anything much to like about them. Give me clean, well-dressed people to watch on the screen any day. Those are the kinds of characters that are the best in my book.