Directed by Albert Hughes and Allen Hughes (credited as The Hughes Brothers)
Written by Gary Whitta
Cast: Denzel Washington, Mila Kunis, and Gary Oldman
Length: 1 hour and 58 minutes
Genre: Action, adventure, drama
MPAA Rating: R
Description from IMDB:
“A post-apocalyptic tale, in which a lone man fights his way across America in order to protect a sacred book that holds the secrets to saving humankind.”
In the aftermath of a cataclysmic event, humanity is scattered and has turned to scavenging in order to survive. A man (Denzel Washington) walks West on a journey to bring a King James Bible to the coast where his faith is leading him. He is forced to go into a shanty town, run by the megalomaniac Carnegie (Gary Oldman), in order to get water. Eli is beset upon by Carnegie’s men after accidentally killing one, and is given an offer of employment. He refuses, and meets Solara (Mila Kunis), who is sent in to convince him to stay. He decides to leave the town after Carnegie learns of the bible in his possession, and must fight to continue his quest.
The fight sequences are what truly stand out in the film. The action is fluid, and often framed in an interesting way. The above picture is from an early altercation with some hijackers that is filmed in such a way that all the viewer sees are the silhouettes of the fighters. At another fight after Eli has entered the town, the camera revolves around the open space in the room while the fighting goes on. This shifts the perspective of the shot while keeping a kinetic feel to the action. These fights break the blandness to the visual tone of the film which is present even when Eli and Solara make it to the sanctuary of Alcatraz and there is blue sky above.
Society has devolved to a bartering system with water being rationed out. There are cannibals that are identified by having the shakes, which the people in town look for as they won’t serve cannibals, but they mostly live in the outskirts. There are remnants from “the time before”, such as the iPod Eli carries, Zippo lighters, and KFC wet wipes. Guns also feature in the film, but it is often commented that most don’t have bullets in them. People allude to “the flash”, “the war”, and “the world before” while referencing the fact that people made a point to burn books, especially Bibles, in the aftermath. In a world of illiteracy, the well-read can become kings.
Carnegie’s main motivation in the film is finding a Bible so that he can use its words to brainwash people into doing what he wants. He is manipulative, conniving, and ruthless in his pursuit of what he wants. Though he puts on a pleasant façade, there is a darkness inside that rears its head when he is denied and gaining power is his only motivation.. His ideals contrast Eli’s, who wants to take the book somewhere it is needed and where it will do people good. He is led by a voice and feeling that he believes keeps him safe from harm, which almost all evidence points to in dire situations. This is less a film about pushing religion or beliefs, and more of a discussion of how belief can be uses as a tool to help others or a means of thought control to benefit those in power.
Though its ending doesn’t tie things up well, the revelation in The Book of Eli (2010) is alluded to throughout the film if one decides to watch again. The action and cinematography are what elevate this above a dour and monotone movie about scavengers and the blind. Oldman and Washington’s performances are fantastic and Kunis does her character justice to bring life to this otherwise drab and monochromatic film. If you enjoyed The Road (2009), but thought it needed more violence and less profundity, The Book of Eli (2010) is a good fit.
Verdict: 3 overlooked dystopian films out of 5
Recommended for: People who want to see Dumbledore shoot at Sirius Black, people looking for a surprising amount of product placement in a dystopian world, those who enjoy dystopian films, fans of sepia tone, those who like watching people walk, fans of Atticus Ross, and those who enjoyed The Road (2009).
Not recommended for: Lovers of hairless cats, vampires, those who will dismiss a film simply because it is about faith or religion, or those who didn’t enjoy The Road (2009).