Sunday, January 17, 2010

Film-a-matic: The book of Eli

The Book of Eli is a pretty solid film. To distill the plot, Denzel Washington is the aforementioned Eli, who is working his way across the post apocalyptic USA to deliver a book. The movie makes a bit of an effort to hide the name and designation of the book in question, so I won't sully the effort by mentioning it outright here. The conflict of the story begins when Eli passes through a small dusty town and gathers the attention of the self appointed town leader Carnegie, played by Gary Oldman. Oldman is great in his role as the ambitious Carnegie, who wants the book to help him in his megalomania. The grittiness of the environment causes me to recall my time playing the"Fallout" video games. The landscape is a little less civilized than Children of Men, but the movie does appear to use some of the visuals and themes of that film. Quite a few films have been set in a post world war nuclear meltdown apocalypse. Thematically the film might also remind you of Will Smith's I am Legend except, there are no zombies, or vampires or whatever, just old fashion human greed, need and survival instinct. The Hughes Brothers, who broke into film with Menace to Society, use pretty stark visuals, with a lot of shots that make you think of comic book movies, like their previous venture From Hell, and Watchmen. It is no surprise that the script for Eli was drawn as a comic to help sell the project.

                Mila Kunis is in the film as a young girl named Solaris. Her character teeters between being a damsel in distress and a capable companion to Eli. She doesn't always look like she fits in the dreary landscape. Where Denzel looks ragged and chapped she looks like that girl from that 70's show slumming it through the desert. The film never lets us know what her age should be, which is a little weird since she's kind of sexualized and fawned over. From the moment she joins our stoic hero my brain began to notice the parallels to Leon the Professional, which also features Gary Oldman, and a young Natalie Portman in a role similar to Kunis here. V for Vendetta, also staring Portman, also comes to mind as a movie that plays with the tropes of a hardened mysterious killer that brings a young girl into his care.

Eli is a more Christian film than those I just mentioned, but I don’t want that to be a deterrent to any Atheists. Harry Potter films appear to take magic seriously enough in its world but I don’t believe it is trying to convert anyone to become a wizard. The Matrix wasn’t trying to convert anyone to follow Neo as a religion. Eli isn’t really preaching despite its reliance on faith and the quotation of religious scripture. The movie, to me anyway, is actually about a character that has faith and follows that faith on a path while trying to preserve what it considers important elements of a culture. Carnegie is a man who also has a belief, and he follows that belief. The film avoids being preachy by not hammering home any changes in Kunis at the end. I am not sure if that is a missed opportunity for her character. To say more would spoil some of the ending. Denzel does do a Denzel in this movie, all the way to the end. He’s fun to watch because he’s Denzel, and the film relies on his charisma to fill in some of the elements of the character. There is a turn at the end that I had a problem with, because I feel it is a little too heavy handed. Otherwise the movie is pretty enjoyable. Denzel gets down with that blade, which was what sold me on the trailer. It is a pretty good movie for a weekend thrill. I'd give it three stars.

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