The landscape and story behind The Book of Eli is sparse. Its lunar-like appearance adds an air of desperation that presages what is coming. There are no lush colors or bright moments in this film. It is dark and gets darker. Directors Albert and Allen Hughes (Menace II Society, From Hell) spin an apocalypse with no catastrophe.
Eli and his book are the stars of this show. And Denzel Washington's Eli is a tall, tan, taciturn, killing machine who dispatches his enemies and stalkers with precision. A bow and arrow, machete, and Luger are at his disposal. His sidekick is an illiterate, skinny white girl Solara (Mila Kunis) whom he rescues from a life of lust as she is pimped out by her mother's boyfriend Carnegie. Gary Oldman's Carnegie is a delicious villain. He is not all bad because he wants to possess the book that Eli protects with his life.
Solara's mother is played by Jennifer Beals. She is blind. Once the happy lesbian in The L Word, Beals is now the angst-ridden handmaiden of a madman who is looking for "the book." That book just happens to be one of the books not destroyed in "the war." Here's where The Book of Eli gets preachy — fast. I am not sure if the R rating is to warn us of the wholesale violence that streams through this movie or a warning that you will believe that books are the source of civilization. And can act as the roots of man's humanity, goodness, and rebirth.
Unlike the movie 2012, The Book Of Eli spares the viewer any special effects spectacles that lead to the actual end time. Eli begins in a desert (New Mexico) and ends at Alcatraz in the San Francisco Bay. No kidding. I recognized the island, the Bay, and the Golden Gate Bridge from my trip there this summer. That makes me feel better toward the end of the movie. Even I begin to believe the spin and see a light at the end of the last printing press in the world (I'm guessing).
Since we are spared the details of destruction we must imagine what happens until Eli fills in the blanks with Solara.This film is painfully short on detail and long on murder macabre-style. Eli walks the desert. He recounts how he has walked for 30 years since "the war." This leads to one scene where Eli opens up about "life before" and how "the sky opened up" and "the flash." That sums up the detail of what happened. The landscape is strewn with the wreckage of life before where everyone had too much. Survivors, a few, cannot read and cannot recall the meaning of morality. They practice murder, rape, and looting. This is their faith, their religion in the new world.
Eli however is no paragon of virtue. He too must kill to survive. But above all he must stay true to "the path." Whatever that is. Perhaps this is one positive critique about The Book of Eli — that the viewer gets to imagine his own reasons and events leading up to the end of the world! Did people have to change because the script lines read, "People threw away more than they needed?" … Or "what people kill for now was simply thrown away in the past?" Solara gets to contemplate these pearls of wisdom from Eli on the road.
Solara, enthralled, joins his mission to place the book in safekeeping to jump start the world. You guessed it — this movie is totally lacking in originality for its action genre. Is this film a sign of what's to come in 2010? I hope not, in a time when folks are hungry for, well, the end. So, if you are long on imagination and love guts and gore — with little tolerance for talking heads — then this is your movie.