Monday, January 18, 2010

The Book of Eli (2010) – Review

The Book of Eli is a brutal action film elevated by deeper meaning. Or, it is a spiritual film with scenes of coarse violence. It is hard to say which of these categories it best fits. Certainly, there are scenes of action that are shot in typical Hughes Brothers’ fashion – artistically poetic, yet ruthless and unflinching (Denzel straight cuts some dude’s head off with a machete). The film does not try to defer its meaning to the subtext, it is right out there for the viewer to see. This is a movie about faith, religion and its power. The book is referred to as the salvation of humanity and a weapon to enslave humanity, depending on whose hands it might fall. Eli’s book is the last of its kind as the apocalypse is inferred to have been started at least in some way due to religion and thus all copies of the book were sot out and destroyed (save one) to prevent it happening again. Thus the nature of power in the wrong hands is shown to have caused such destruction and yet Eli still journeys to bring the book to where it is needed, as humanity starts again the book is still thought to be a valued component to the rebirth of culture, when humanity begins again they can correct the wrongs and live out the sincere nature of the book. Eli is represented as one of unwavering faith, but still human, much like those of stories told in holy books, that must carry out a mission, or are spoken to by a higher calling. His journey is guided by faith and he is only but a servant to the will of that faith. Carnegie, the boss of a small town Eli travels through, represents the misuse of the power that comes from the book. He sees that the words in the book have the ability to make people fall under his control, and he seeks to use these words purely to expand his empire (whether his deeper motivations are for peace, merely power for the sake of power, or something more nefarious is debatable, there are aspects of him that represent each, but mostly he is shown as wicked, unfeeling and cruel). The film creates an interesting analogy for the way the book (pick the religion of your liking) is used in many cases in today’s world – while some are indeed noble, sadly it seems that more often they are like those of Carnegie’s aspersions. The shooting style of the film is cool, featuring the typical Hughes Brothers’ fluid camera, landscapes void of bright colors making the terrain and world appear quite harsh and characters that seem right out of Borderlands (a post-apocalyptic video game). Don Burgess did a great job shooting the film digitally. The Hughes Brothers set up the narrative to play like a western: solo traveler that is just passing through, gets wrapped up in a dispute with the town’s evil boss. It worked well as a structure. The music used in the film (both original and found) really helped set the mood of the picture and establish the character of Eli and his journey. Acting wise, Denzel Washington gives a fine subtle performance, which really strengthens the storytelling of the film as a whole. Gary Oldman is not really given a lot to work with in terms of character (he is mainly just an evil dude), but even so is good. Mila Kunis is not great, but she is not bad either, and ultimately seems to fit the role. But it is Washington’s film, his journey, and he carries it well. The Book of Eli has intense action, sure to excite any avid fan, a good message and does justice to the (in a sense western as well as) post-apocalyptic genre. 8/10

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