Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Book of Eli. D+

The Book of Eli has some great action scenes shot with distinction by the Hughes brothers, but that's really the only plus in this ludicrous, Biblical-themed apocalyptic adventure. Denzel Washington walks the barren landscape in a dour, grim state, possessing only weapons to slay hijackers, a sacred book, and the steadfast determination to make it out west where his mysterious mission will be complete. Gary Oldman is the bad guy, a covetous power-hungry soul in pursuit of the book of Eli. He really does nothing except limp around on a bad leg and order his men to do the dirty-work. Something terrible, it's not entirely clear what, has happened, and the earth looks pretty much identical to the landscapes in last year's The Road. The only real difference is the colors are more sepia-toned and the terrain is mostly flat, like the desert. The movie's been called a Western, and it's not hard to see why. I was interested in the movie mainly because of its directors, Albert and Allen Hughes, who've made a few prior films, most notably the stellar Menace II Society. Here you can see they know what they're doing in terms of the film's visual style. Instead of the familiar fight scenes where the camera is constantly cutting back and forth, the Hughes opt to shoot Eli's vicious battles from a distance. In one key scene, the camera stays back so we can absorb he situation, then it cuts in so we can catch the detail. It does this repeatedly throughout the sequence, and if you watch, you'll see it's much more effective than the standard fight scene. I also liked how in the first major shootout, the only music is the gun fire. Movies so often forget that a fight sequence is enhanced greatly when it's devoid of a soundtrack. Unfortunately the Hughes brothers are working with a story that's a giant mistake. It was a risky move that didn't work. To divulge the main problems with The Book of Eli would sort of destroy the film's surprise. Before it's twist, the movie is a retreading of several action, apocalyptic, and Western movies. After it, it's something ridiculous, what exactly, I'm not sure. On the surface, it's a lot like The Road, which is a masterpiece and far too unappreciated. Both movies are about people trying to reach the coast in a post-apocalypse America. But the overall effect of one is powerful, and the other completely inane. Of course, you can guess which is which.

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