I want to first start out by saying Matt Goldberg wrote a dynamite review when The Book of Eli was in theaters and I agree with him completely. What could have been just a standard action flick, ends up being a soulful exploration of one man’s quest to guard a book at all costs, with loads of awesome cinematography and action to keep even die-hard action fans satisfied. More after the jump.
The Book of Eli takes place in 2043, the world is in ruins after The Last Great War and an event alluded to as The Flash, which blinded a good majority of the population. The bleak atmosphere is brilliantly set up within the film’s first few minutes. There’s an ash covered forest where a soldier’s corpse lies rotting on the ground, a hairless cat crawls up and begins to gnaw on the soldier’s remains, the camera tracks back to reveal a man in a gas mask with a bow and arrow waiting patiently for the moment to strike. The arrow soars through the air stopping in slow motion to split a piece of ash and hits the cat. Now that’s what I call a lean post-apocalyptic dinner!
The man is revealed to be Eli (Denzel Washington), he has developed survival tactics to deal with the harsh world that now exists, as he scours abandoned homes, taking the boots from a corpse hanging in the closet. His only luxuries in life are the iPod he carries with him, a machete he sharpens regularly, and a mysterious book that he will protect at any cost. Eli has a path, he’s heading out west with this book and nothing will stop him. Not even a gang of deranged bikers, where the first action scene plays out and we get to see just how badass Eli is. He single-handedly takes out five guys with a machete, all seen in shadows under a bridge. It was at that moment I knew I would love this movie, the Hughes Brothers’ confidence in their filmmaking is apparent from the start. Eli continues on his journey to a town where he runs into Carnegie, the movie’s antagonist, who has been scouring the country looking for this one book, the book Eli just happens to be carrying on his back. The rest of the film plays out in a very mature and thoughtful way as Eli meets Solara (Mila Kunis) and she joins him on his quest, with Carnegie violently trailing behind. Leading to some of the coolest action scenes I’ve see in theaters or on Blu-ray this year.
The best thing about this movie is the confidence and artistry of the directors. The Hughes Brothers may have taken some time off since From Hell, but they’ve come back stronger and with an even clearer sense of style and storytelling. A movie about a guy carrying the Bible across the country because he was Divinely told to do so might be a stretch or seem way too heavy handed in the wrong directorial hands, but the Hughes Brothers balance the message of faith with an incredibly gritty world that’s oversaturated from the Sun burning through the Ozone and filled with characters that are so lost you believe their only salvation could be this book. The pace the movie flows with gives the audience room to breath in between action scenes. The action scenes are directed in a very coherent way, which seems unheard of in films lately to actually be able to see what’s going on in an action scene, not just flashy MTV-style annoying cuts all over the place and shaky hand-held cameras making the audience nauseated instead of thrilled.
I also feel the film’s theme isn’t too much of a stretch; saying that the Bible is the world’s greatest weapon. People use faith to heal and bring each other together, but there are others that use it for fear mongering and as a means to marginalize and control others. Carnegie wants the book so he can have the words to strike fear in people, so they will look to him for guidance, he will be their messiah. While Eli wants the book to be protected and knows he has to take the book west, that’s his divine purpose. It’s a science fiction movie where instead of technology being our downfall, it was religion, what’s the difference?
One of the most intriguing elements of the film for me was when Eli goes to a pawnshop to get his iPod battery charged and the shop owner barters with him for items of value, but the items of value aren’t money or anything you’d expect. If the world went to hell and society broke down, there was no more water because the irrigation pipes won’t function properly and the Earth is turned into a dessert wasteland, water would be more precious than gold and it is treated as such in this film. People literally whore themselves out for this precious commodity. Eli peaks the pawnshop owner’s attention most with moist towellettes, cleanliness is hard to come by in this grungy world. I really liked the realistic portrayal of how things we take for granted now, would become something that’s sought after in a crumbling society.
The acting is top-notch in this film as well, not a loose link in the chain. Denzel Washington is quiet and reserved, but packs one hell of a punch if you try to disrupt his quest. Gary Oldman is at the top of his game as usual as the devious single-minded Carnegie. And even Mila Kunis shines in a role that’s more underplayed and vulnerable than any character I’ve seen her play. With each movie she’s in I’m happy to see her get further and further away from her That 70’s Show typecasting. The thugs in Carnegie’s gang are about as villainous, grimy, and menacing as they come; making it all the more kick-ass when Eli takes them out one by one with a swift cut of his machete.
If you’re tired of mindless action films with bad acting, nauseating quick cuts, juvenile humor, and no real story or substance, then The Book of Eli is exactly what you’re looking for. An all around well-made, thoughtful, and exciting action film grounded by masterful filmmaking and strong performances, a post-apocalyptic western like nothing I’ve seen before.
Picture: This film looks as close to the theaters as possible in beautiful 1080p HD. Picking up every single nuance of filth and grit. Pristine transfer
Audio: You hear ever machete swipe, explosion, and the tiniest of sound FX with absolute clarity
Picture-in-Picture Commentary with the Hughes Brothers and Denzel Washington exploring the world of Eli and delving into some cool details about the filmmaking process.
Starting Over- A mini-doc where the filmmakers and cast talk about the concept of rebuilding society after such a cataclysmic event and what roles we would all play.
Eli’s Journey- The filmmakers talk about what historical and mythological figures they drew from to create Eli and how they reinforced the themes of the film.
The Book of Eli Soundtrack- director and composer talk about how the soundtrack came about and the notes back and forth to find the perfect tone.
Additional Scenes- quick little moments that were cut from the film, nothing too exciting here.
A Lost Tale: Billy- an animated short that gives us the gruesome back-story of Carnegie’s severely twisted childhood and how this shaped him to be the man he is in the film.