Friday, January 15, 2010

The Book of Eli

THE BOOK OF ELI (Albert Hughes and Allen Hughes, 2010)

In the futuristic parable THE BOOK OF ELI Denzel Washington's title character appears to be one of the last righteous men remaining thirty-one years after the apocalypse. Food and water are scarce. Small luxuries, such as wetnaps and shampoo, have high trade value. This lone wanderer travels under what seems to be divine protection as he continues across the desolate landscape on a long, slow journey west.

Among Eli's few possessions is a latched, leather-bound Bible that he wraps in a cloth and is willing to guard at all costs. To his knowledge, he may possess the last copy of the Good Book and is looking to deliver it to those he deems worthy.

Eli's path leads him into the town ruled by Carnegie (Gary Oldman), who has his men ceaselessly searching for a Bible. Carnegie wishes to use the religious text as a weapon for controlling the town's population and taking over other communities. When he learns that Eli may have a Bible, he stops at nothing to obtain it.

Drawing upon the tradition of post-apocalyptic films, directors Albert and Allen Hughes don't deliver much in the way of novelty or surprises in THE BOOK OF ELI. The brothers use familiar cinematic language to strive for and achieve a mytho-poetic vision of a future in desperate need of a savior. Conjuring images of the Wild West via the Old Testament, the directors and cinematographer Don Burgess find stark beauty in the American wasteland's dusty, bleached landscape and blown out sky.

Remarkably little happens in THE BOOK OF ELI, but the Hughes brothers inflate and sustain the tone so that the confrontation feels like nothing less than the battle for humanity's salvation is at stake. Armed with charisma, Washington gives Eli the purpose and certainty of a prophet. It's the kind of resolute performance expected of the charismatic star, and he does not disappoint. Despite an unimposing stature, Oldman's oily antagonist derives power and intimidation through his capacity for wicked intelligence.

As a testament to the importance of the written word in its lowercase and uppercase meanings, THE BOOK OF ELI makes for an odd but compelling action film in defense of literacy and Christian faith. Both can be distorted and employed for nefarious reasons, but when utilized properly, they have the ability to inspire and elevate.

Grade: B

(Photos courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

1 comment:

  1. It's no coincidence that Denzel is a strong advocate of the Christian faith. He was interviewed on NBC's Today Show with Matt Lauer about the movie. That's when he mentioned his strong belief in that faith and how it ties into the movie.