Wall-E, Children of Men, 9, The Road, Terminator Salvation, I Am Legend, 2012, Daybreakers… even if we count Zombies and Alien Invasion as their own things, I haven’t seen Hollywood try this hard to revive a genre since The Musical.
If it’s all a race to see which one can will be the most apocalyptically derivative, I think I’ve found a winner. The Book of Eli isn’t an after-the-fall flick, it’s all of them rolled into a quasi-Christian hot pocket. Creating a wholly unbelievable world and doing absolutely nothing with it is the order of the day after tomorrow, compliments of Menace II Society’s prodigal twin directors The Hughes Brothers.
The Book of Eli is set against an unclear, colorless, detatched-by-cheap-green-screen sky. The title character Eli (Denzel Washington) walks in slow motion across a scorched earth as if seen through the lens of a perfume commercial. In his possession: the last bible. The film might have you believe that’s a spoiler (it doesn’t reveal the name of the title character nor his sought-after tome until the second act) but seeing as the person I watched the film with mistakenly called it The Last Bible, I wager that’s out of the bag.
Yes, that’s right. We’re examining a society with no irrigation or wells, populated exclusively by ignorant bandits and their kept women, but somehow they’ve managed to track down and burn all but one single copy of the most widely published text on the planet. There’s a spectacular magic in observing humanity from the rubble, but the only way you’re gonna get me to turn my brain off that devoutly for a metaphor is if you let Daft Punk handle the entire soundtrack.
Why are all the bibles burned? They were blamed after a nuclear war scorched the land. This happened before, during, or after a hole in the ozone layer caused the sun to do it. How many stories are you gonna feed us Eli? Somewhere in the deleted scenes he’ll say it was all meteors. Whatever the cause, life sucks and would be made somehow worse if Carnegie (Gary Oldman) got his hands on the nefarious tome of God. Meanwhile, both actors will compete to see who can try the least and still collect a paycheck. Gary Oldman a non-physical actor? He must have had the flu.
But even at their laziest, neither Oldman nor Washington can sink to the performance of Mila Kunis in this film. Wearing designer clothes and exhibiting Beverly Hills manners and speech, Solara (Kunis) looks like she spends the majority of her day in the Earth’s only remaining full equipped spa. This is pretty insulting in a film where nobody even knows what the word shampoo means, moreso when it’s said she was born more than a decade after civilization was destroyed. The girl can’t even read, but upon hearing Eli speak elegant verse, she responds “thatsbeautiful” as if she’s bummed about last night’s Dancing with the Stars. If you see Black Swan, also released this year, you’ll know why The Hughes Brothers have nobody to blame for this but themselves.
I’m not sure how much more there is to say. Did Jennifer Beals played convincingly blind? No, because the sun makes her squint. It’s a movie where the only use of color is the product placements, bright red KFC and Motorola contrast an entire world of depressing dust, rust, and extremely cloudy skies that don’t help to explain why people need Gucci sunglasses just to step outdoors. Maybe with all that gaudy art direction they could have just shot for Hell Comes to Frogtown camp.
Oddly the last ten minutes are scripted, lit, scored, edited, and infused with the life of an actual film and not a digital bargain basement Mad Max at the IMAX. A clever twist ending to the story inconceivably does more to discredit the rest both in terms of quality and plot implications. The music continues from these moments into the credits, a beautiful track by Atticus Ross, who collaborated with the The Book of Eli directors earlier on the brilliant but short lived television remake Touching Evil (criminally unavailable on DVD), and will likely pick up an Oscar for his work with Trent Reznor on The Social Network. Giving it another listen on youtube is the most I’ll ever get from my two hours with The Book of Eli.
Overall Score: 4.80 – Terrible. (4s are terrible in many ways. They’re bad enough that even diehard fans of its genre, director, or cast still probably won’t enjoy it at all, and everyone else will leave the theater incredibly angry. Not only are these not worth renting, you should even change the TV channel on them in the future.)
The not-to-be-spoiled twist practically begs the viewer to re-watch The Book of Eli for hints, but who would want to? It’s exhausting the first time around. I pray this movie be cleansed by atomic fire.