A blog about movies and filmmaking.

It’s not a book, it’s a weapon

In action, sci-fi on January 15, 2010 at 4:16 am

THE BOOK OF ELI, the new movie from The Hughes Brothers (Albert and Allen), starring Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis, is a movie that blends CHILDREN OF MEN, THE FOUNTAIN, and I AM LEGEND all into one story of a man looking for redemption and to relieve his spirit of a burden that has been tasked to him. In this post-apocalyptic future, where there’s all the tried and true set-pieces, like armored cars that are bound to suck up more gas than what ought to be available; fashion is still just a little too nice; and there are plenty of people that are just as happy to eat you as let you wander past unharmed – there is something else. Something that brings it out of the league of it’s obvious influences of THE ROAD WARRIOR, the too new to be influence but looks similar anyway of THE ROAD, and even some good ol’ Spaghetti Western frontier justice.

What this movie presents is an earnest, and not-too preachy inclusion of religion and more importantly the role that religion plays in civilization. The book, in the title of this movie, is The Bible – sorry if that completely ruins the movie for you – and it’s presented as both the way to salvation; and as the corrupter of souls. The two main characters, who most covet the book, have these viewpoints. Eli (Washington), sees it as the way to rebuild the world and to reach hope. Carnegie (Oldman) sees it as a way to control the weak, and desperate. Both are uses that this book – and just about any religious text – has been used before. What’s different is that this movie doesn’t seem to really take a side in the preaching, and I say that by the moment in the end; where a main character who now knows the power of the book, and (hopefully) the good that it’s meant to inspire, still packs a sword on their journey back into the world. The movie doesn’t see it in black and white, and that’s part of why I liked it so much.

The movie begins with Eli, sitting in wait for a wild animal to appear. In a grand, overstated-scene honestly, we see him release an arrow and just kill this creature with extreme force. It’s this same force that he doles out to anyone or anything that gets in his way. A random thug touches Eli, and that man loses his hand – literally. On his trip West, he makes the decision to head into a small town, so he can replenish his supplies – and charge up the batteries to run his iPod – and along the way walks into trouble and gaining himself an unwanted friend and partner. Solara, played by Mila Kunis, is first offered to Eli as an incentive to stay in the town; but she soon follows him on the road because she’s told she’ll be safer. This naturally proves to be untrue, as it’s her that leads to their being put in more danger, in some shady circumstances, and of course him having to save her a couple times.

Washington is fantastic in the role of Eli. Working a little off his role from MAN ON FIRE, with smidges of MALCOLM X, he underplays the character with a stillness, equivalent to that of a monk, or even a samurai. When he’s relaxed, he’s carrying around a small pistol; he’s never off his game. And even when he has to make the biggest sacrifice in the movie; there’s still an assuredness, that leaves us wondering just what is going to happen next. Oldman, as Carnegie, returns to the role of villain – one that we haven’t seen from him, really since 2001’s HANNIBAL (unless you want to count his role as the Devil in the BMW mini-movie, BEAT THE DEVIL, directed by Tony Scott). He’s been too busy playing Sirius Black in the HARRY POTTER movies and Commissioner Gordon in the new BATMAN movies from Christopher Nolan. So, he’s nice and tasty stepping back into character as the ruthless villain.

It also helps that he has a henchman in the form of Ray Stevenson (PUNISHER: WARZONE and the HBO series ROME), who, while under-written has a couple of moments that reveal the heart of who his character is. The other main characters that appear, from Kunis to Jennifer Beals, and even the cameos from the likes of Malcolm McDowell, Michael Gambon and the always great Tom Waits; are all light on character, but work for the story nonetheless.

The real appeal to this movie is the direction and the soundtrack. First the music has this muddled, over-amplified sound to it. It reminded me a little of Clint Mansell’s score to THE FOUNTAIN, but distorted and turned more into a heavy metal kind of sound. It’s used sparingly, but very effectively. The look of the movie is completely desaturated, and superimposed with magnificent skies rolling with heavy clouds. There are moments of action that take place completely in silhouette, cameras that move like we’re in THE MATRIX, yet aren’t quite that “showy”, and of course the most ragged landscapes wind up being the actor’s faces.

It’s a fantastic movie – that while I wouldn’t rate as high as some of my favorite dystopic movies – is definitely worth the watch. Although that I’m more than willing to accept that I might be the only person to feel this way about THE BOOK OF ELI. I just hope this means that we might get more movies from The Hughes Brothers. While they’ve only made a handful of movies – the Alan Moore adapted, Jack the Ripper movie FROM HELL, the “escape from the hood” movies MENACE II SOCIETY and DEAD PRESIDENTS – I think that they’ve got an interesting voice, that I’d like to hear from more than once a decade.

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