FILM REVIEW: The Book Of Eli
15 • 117 mins • 15 January
Director: Albert and Allen Hughes
Cast: Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis, Ray Stevenson, Jennifer Beals, Michael Gambon
If cinema tickets were significantly cheaper then apocalypse flicks really would be two-a-penny at the moment. In this respect The Book Of Eli breaks little new (dusty) ground. But with an appealing western vibe, its fair share of dazzling set-pieces and some interesting ideas bubbling beneath the surface, Eli defies lazy dismissal as Hollywood’s version of The Road.
Picking up 30 years after a catastrophic war has resulted in the end of civilisation, Eli (Denzel Washington) is a Bible-hugging ninja on a mission across America to deliver the last religious text to a safe haven. It’s Eli’s bad luck to wander through a ramshackle town lorded over by Gary Oldman’s Carnegie, a world-weary tyrant who wants the book for his own corrupt ends. The word is mightier than the sword you see – not that you’d know it from the number of heads that roll off Eli’s righteous blade.
The first Hughes Brothers film since their stylish 2001 Alan Moore adaptation From Hell, Eli is a visual treat: bleak with a stark, high-contrast look to its sun-drenched world and striking compositions that wouldn’t look out of place in a comic book. Sunglasses and goggles are ubiquitous under the cracked atmosphere; if Ray-Ban ever made a range of shades for hobos the adverts would look like this.
Washington impresses in the lightning-fast group massacres, but the character feels underwritten; there’s little to Eli than droll monotone and devout faith. Mila Kunis tags along for a while but has “plot device” branded to her forehead, while Gary Oldman does a respectable job as the incorrigible antagonist with fewer barking outbursts than expected and a satisfying arc.
Where the film surprises is in its attitudes to faith and the nature of Eli’s mission. Some may object to the film eulogising one faith above others, but this isn’t as important as the fact that Eli’s mission is to save a part of what makes us human in a world that has lost its humanity. There’s even a great final twist that ties in to this, which will have you furiously replaying the entire film in your head as the credits roll. The Book Of Eli isn’t without its flaws but at the very least it’s a technical triumph. The end of the world has never looked this good.