Thursday, 11 February 2010
The Book of Eli
THE BOOK OF ELI (2009)
Directed by: The Hughes Brothers
Written by: Gary Whitta
Starring: Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis, Ray Stevenson
A post apocalyptic western, The Book of Eli sees Eli (Washington) wandering the blasted out plains of America, heading West, carrying a mysterious book. Fighting off the fury of a ravaged nature and violent gangs that wander the desert, Eli is determined to get this book to the West coast where he believes it will be safe. However, another man by the name of Carnegie (Oldman) also wants the book, aware of its power and willing to do anything to obtain it. When Eli is temporarily detained in Carnegie’s broken down town, he learns that Eli is in possession of said book. Eli makes a quick escape and Carnegie sets his small army after him, becoming increasingly desperate to get hold of this mysterious book.
The Book of Eli is the first film from the Hughes Brothers in 9 years. Blazing onto the scene with urban thrillers Menace II Society and Dead Presidents, they last graced the screen with underrated graphic novel adap, From Hell. They return to the screen and once again surprise and thrill with a film that has a lot more going on than the action packed trailer suggests. Sure, The Book of Eli still has a fair share of action set-pieces, all thrillingly staged, but the film also entertains with its unique take on the post apocalyptic genre and is much about character as it is action. Adopting a very much old school approach (i.e. how they used to make blockbusters back in the 80s and 90s) the Hughes shy away from frenetic editing and fast moving narrative and take their time to tell the story of Eli. The narrative takes its time to play out as we experience Eli living his lonely existence, relationships and adversities are developed between characters and the action develops from the situations rather than just being thrown in for the sake of it. The cast are all superb, great to see Oldman as a bad guy again and even waif like Mila Kunis is effective as a would be warrior who joins Eli on his quest.
The blasted out, dust bowl landscape is vividly realized and the Hughes use a striking and effective musical score to help drive the action and create tension and unnerve as the characters make their way across the desolate landscape. The action is well handled, starting with several well choreographed fights that Eli has with various outlaw gangs and climaxing in a little bit of Mad Max style vehicle carnage. The stand out piece is a bravura one take (with a little help from some CGI) shootout at an abandoned house where the wanderers are holed with a been-out-in-the-desert too long couple (Frances de la Tour and Michael Gambon). The Hughes Brothers know how to stage and frame action and The Book of Eli features some stylish big budget action scenes. Never saturating proceedings, the action is born out of the rising conflict meaning it is nicely paced throughout.
Now the film has a fairly religious slant. It’s pretty obvious what the book Eli is carrying from the get go and some may find the religious aspects a little heavy handed. In truth, they are, though not bludgeoned onto the viewer. The film deals with the Bible, what it means to some people, how it helps others and even how others want to use it for evil. This may put some off, and I was certainly wary at first, but it is handled surprisingly well being part of the story rather than dominating it. The ending is maybe a little too neat and tidy as well and there are certain twists and revelations in the third act that while work well within the frame of the story being told may be hard for some to swallow.
On the whole though, The Book of Eli is a thrilling piece of genre storytelling with a refreshing adult tone, breakneck action and is a lot more character based than many of its Hollywood conveyer belt counterparts.