Denzel Washington protects the integrity of The Book of Eli

The Book of Eli

Directed by Albert Hughes, Allen Hughes

Starring Denzel Washingon, Mila Kunis, Gary Oldman, Ray Stevenson, Jennifer Beals, Michael Gambon, Frances De La Tour, Tom Waits, Malcom McDowell

Screenwriter Gary Whitta

There seems to be a new apocalypse movie every season.  I have reviewed 5 this year already.  One would think this well would be dry by now.  Curious that no one has ever included religion to this point.  The Hughes Brothers working with a Gary Whitta script takes care of this omission.

Still, based on the trailers, I had no stirring wish to see this movie.  The Hughes brothers oeveure was creating the least of the entertaining gangster films of the early ’90’s (Menace II Society, Dead Presidents) along with the extremely dry “Jack The Ripper” comic movie, From Hell.  That Denzel Washington chose to work with them held little sway with me, either.  Washington has a long history of working with Tony Scott, who I consider one of the worst directors of all time.

When it arrived to video, I decided to give it a shot.  From the opening frames, I was nearly convinced I was pretty much right in my assessment.  There was an ambush, an assault and a counter assault.  They were well-filmed in shadow, but the overall sepia tone of the film seemed gimmicky.

After this, we see Washington’s character, Eli, carrying on into an abandoned house.  He is on the constant lookout for food, and even more precious to him is water.  He has learned, apparently, to enjoy what he can out of this type of living.  The scenes in the abandoned house that night, with him finding a new pair of shoes in a gruesome way, enjoying them, cooking some hard-won food, listening to Al Green on an IPOD, and washing himself as best he could, are stirringly well done.  An indicator of things to come…

Once we get to town, Eli goes to the local fix-it shop to get his IPOD recharged.  I was happy to see that they did not ignore the idea that it might be hard to do this in a world where electricity was scarce.  He bides his time in a local watering hole, where water is worth more than any other fluid.  The inevitable happens, and of course Eli is the last one standing.  This brings him to the attention of Gary Oldman’s Carnegie.

Oldman as antagonist is nothing new, and a reliable choice.  The movie really benefits from the choice of Ray Stevenson as Redridge, the second in command.  Stevenson oozes both authority and consternation.  He seems in control at all times, and also incredibly sad.  This adds depth in character in the type of movie where depth is at a premium.

The last piece of the puzzle is provided by mother, Jennifer Beals and her daughter, Mila Kunis.  Kunis has the rare combination of beauty and obvious brains that has thus far has been underutilized on film.  Forgetting Sarah Marshall has been her significant work until now.  She has tons of potential and this movie shows what she can do when she works alongside a real actor.

Kunis with Jennifer Beals

That real actor brings a real sense of gravitas to what could have been a throwaway role.  Denzel Washington nails the sense of humility that one

Denzel's Eli takes two pieces of Humble Pie...and gives one to someone who is needy.

might have when motivated by The Word of God.  Far from having the answers, he shows the ability to learn from his own decisions or indecisions and adapt to better serve his understanding of God’s Message.  His journey from East to West is fascinating when you understand his motives completely.  When first I heard that this journey had taken 30 years, I was puzzled.  Events at the end of the film show how this might be possible in the most fascinating way.

The Hughes Brothers talent really comes together in this film.  They manage to portray the action in a very simple and elegant way.  There are very few stomach-churning moments that are not shown at a merciful angle.  It should manage people who watch this movie for the message, as well as those who like action.  The ending is extremely well done, and it brings together a few strands of the story.  If they can parley half of the talent in this film into future projects, perhaps they can save Denzel from making Man on Fire II.

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