Religion is power. It is a simple statement and one that carries quite a bit of truth to it because regardless of where you stand on issues of faith it is hard to deny that religion has been at the center of most of human history. Much good in the world can point directly to religion as missionaries around the world attempt to help those less fortunate than themselves in the name of their god but the converse can also be said as some of the world’s greatest tragedies can also be tied back to faith. The Book of Eli, the new Denzel Washington vehicle, leans heavily on these themes as it sets out to tell its story.
The world of the Book of Eli is a decimated one. It is supposed that roughly 30 years ago a nuclear war took place and now the world is a shadow of its former self. Settlements are reminiscent of the Wild West, ruled by the gun, but they are far safer than the outlands where roving bands of bandits attack travelers for their water as well as their flesh. One of these settlements is run by Carnegie (Gary Oldman), a corrupt gang leader who maintains control over the people by controlling the water. However Carnegie feels that to have true power he needs something more, something spiritual.
A wandering traveler named Eli (played by Washington), who has a unique set of skills comes across Carnegie who becomes intrigued with the wanderer after Eli decimates a bar full of his thugs. Carnegie senses that Eli is someone different, someone from before the flash (the implied nuclear war), someone who is educated. In an effort to entice Eli to join forces with Carnegie he orders Solara (Mila Kunis) to go to him at night and entice him to stay but instead of seducing Eli, Eli seduces Solara with what he is carrying before leaving town. Carnegie discovers what Eli has and realizes that it is what he has been searching for heading out with his thugs to track down and claim what he feels is his right.
If you go into The Book of Eli expecting a non-stop action movie you will be quite disappointed. The pace of the film is quite deliberate and well thought out. And while there are a few fantastic set pieces, the majority of the film is spent with Eli walking west or with Carnegie chasing him down. The film pulls off the deliberate pacing quite well though relying on fine performances from Washington, Oldman and Ray Stevenson, as Carnegie’s right hand man Redridge and a serviceable one from Kunis.
The tone of the film is quite bleak and the visual approach that the Hughes Brothers take in their direction and cinematography is quite fitting. They show that they still have a flair for beautiful camera work despite not having directed a film together in nearly a decade. The bleakness of the film never really lets up, even through the end, but it is fitting for the world that has been set up by first time screenwriter, Gary Whitta. However as gritty and grim as Whitta’s script is, it still suffers from some closing issues that hold the entire film back from greatness. The final third of the film relies on all too convenient happenings and an ending that is nearly unbelievable.
All in all though The Book of Eli is a good film in a genre that at times can produce some floppy material. If you are in for a serious genre film, with a serious message then The Book of Eli should provide you with some quality entertainment.
4 out of 5