Walking into the theater, I wasn’t sure what to expect of the Hughes Brothers’ latest flick. Of course, that may be the curse of January film drudge more than anything else, but “The Book of Eli” was surprisingly worth the sit.
We begin in a dusty, barren landscape created by the fallout of nuclear war, where a lone traveler, Eli (Denzel Washington), is heading out west. Along the way, he meets a band of thieves, some cannibals and an old-West-style town run by a corrupt leader (Gary Oldman). And no, I’m not kidding.
As far as action films go, “Eli” makes for an entertaining viewing experience. Though the film is less a period piece and more a fuzzy, convoluted, post-apocalyptic mess, the film expertly and stylishly combines a sense of mystery in with the action, which really pays off.
Washington’s turn as a solemn warrior sworn to protect his Bible seems to take a page right out of Clint Eastwood’s acting manual, where an aged, scowling face and few words are really more profound than the actual action scenes.
Mila Kunis (“That 70’s Show”) will never be a dramatic actress in my mind, and her forcedly naïve turn as Solara, a victim of the town’s tyranny, is predictably painful to watch. Luckily for her, her fellow cast members pick up the slack, especially Oldman, who is always a pleasure to watch and makes no exception here.
The script’s attempts at subtle suspense — like trying to hide that the Bible is the book everyone is fighting for and not directly stating that shaky hands are a sign of cannibalism — are a tad forced and unnecessary. The viewer can easily make assumptions on these hints long before the big “reveals” take place.
Props to the Hughes Brothers, though, who use hints of superimposition (á la “300”) and intense alterations in setting appearance to depict the different dimensions of Eli’s journey. The dark forest of dust, the shadowed fight scene under the bridge and the dry heat of the town (to name a few) draw attention to the depth of the film’s story. While Eli questionably uses violence in his quest for what’s right, the scenes cut away from the gory violence. Instead, the camera draws back to wide shots, deemphasizing the pain Eli induces while highlighting the degree to which he is protected by something, holy or otherwise.
While the movie is no A+, the gritty scenes and compelling obstacles of the characters draw the viewer in. And with some unique acting turns by Washington and Oldman, this post-apocalypse movie may not actually feel like the end of the world.