The Book Of Eli
It’s always a risk when film-makers decide to try and attach heavily religious messages to blockbusters, and it doesn’t get more heavy-handed than in The Book Of Eli. Sadly, this post-apocalyptic story of one man’s quest to bring Jesus-based enlightenment to a wretched humanity comes off as what it is; a sermon with added guns.
Book? What Book?
Denzel Washington plays Eli; a mysterious man on a mysterious quest, with a pair of very mysterious sunglasses, in a dusty world ruined by an apocalyptic disaster. Previously a supermarket assistant, Eli has heard The Call of a higher power, and has embarked on a quest to deliver ‘A Book’ to ‘A Safe Place’. What’s the book? Well, we don’t want to ruin the story for you, but it’s leather bound, it’s got a big wooden cross on the front of it and it doesn’t turn out to be The Enthusiast’s Guide To Table Making. Eli is forced to travel across war-torn cities, abandoned villages and tretcherous plains, encountering baddie Carnegie (a role-by-numbers deal for Gary Oldman) on the way, who wants the book for his own – significantly more evil – reasons.
Been down this Road before…
This film is rather unlucky in a number of ways. Firstly, it’s a premise that rather relies on the gloomy-but-beautiful cinematography of the post-apocalyptic landscape, which though well designed by Gae Buckley, it bares uncanny similarities to that of The Road, released earlier this month. Secondly, it’s a film that takes its mournful mission so very seriously that any moments of lightness seem bizarre and completely jar with the general aesthetic. The sudden comedy cameo team of – believe it or not – Michael Gambon and Frances De La Tour as chipper house-bound cannibals is so mind-bendingly inappropriate that it’s very difficult to actually believe what you’re watching. As soon as they disappear (all too soon we feel, as it means we’re unsure their appearance wasn’t a dream) the descent back into Denzel’s single-minded drudgery is even more difficult to bear.
There are some nice performances from the supporting cast; Mila Kunis is suitably charming as the hard-done-by daughter of Carnegie and Jennifer Beals gives a sweetly understated performance as his blind wife. Sadly though, Denzel takes his role as evangelistic angel very seriously, and the weight of responsibility presses down hard on his performance, slowing his pace and action to the point where it’s difficult to care about him. The conclusion of the story is predictable, hammy and pretty uncomfortable for anyone without a very specific religious leaning. The annoying thing is that if the story or characters had really grabbed us, the religious aspect of this film could have been an interesting aside, rather than a full-frontal punch to the cinematic gut. But with very little else to recommend it, the viewer is left contemplating why on earth big man Washington took on this role in the first place.
Overall, though Eli is willing to trek across the world to save a story, we’re not sure we’d do this same with this one. It’s The Road with a book instead of a kid, and frankly, that’s not enough of a reason to spend your money. Not even for Denzel.