Starring Denzel Washington, Mila Kunis, Gary Oldman and Jennifer Beals. Directed by Albert Hughes and Allen Hughes. 118 Minutes. R
Did you ever think that the Bible was unfinished? Is it sacrilegious of me to ask? If it is, then it must be sacrilegious to watch this film. Clearly Legion was a blasphemy, that God wanted to kill humanity, but is Book of Eli much better? The man-slaughtering man in a post-apocalyptic world surrounded by prostitution and profanity?
It’s a question I keep coming back to watching Book of Eli. It’s supposedly the last chapter in the Bible, Eli’s chapter. Set a few decades in the future when much of humanity has been destroyed and the remaining have become savages, Eli (Denzel Washington) is carrying the Bible somewhere. He doesn’t know where, he only knows it’s West because God spoke to him and left this mission with him. Along the way, he passes through a rundown slum where he meets Carnegie (Gary Oldman), the black-hearted town ruler of sorts. Carnegie is looking for a book, a book that is so powerful it will help him maintain power over his shambled town. His thugs can’t read yet they scour the scorched earth for it. And wouldn’t you know, the book just walks into town. But when Solara (Mila Kunis), Carnegie’s slave woman’s (Jessica Beals) daughter, finds out that Eli has the book and lets it slip to Carnegie, Eli has already left town. Carnegie and his men are on a ruthless hunt to get that book.
In a way, it’s like Inglourious Basterds. This is the righteous story that could happen, in the midst of bloody slaughter. It’s positive in a very dark way. It’s a film where you cheer for the good guy and to your surprise and hopes, nothing can take him down. He is destined to do this.
While this sounds cheesy at first, when you think about it, it’s actually really difficult to write and direct a story that could fit into the Bible. With all the modern Hollywood bittersweet and brutal murder for murder’s sake stories, a story about destiny, faith and duty really cut through expectations. After a while, you aren’t hoping that Eli will make it; you know he will because he has to.
Washington seems to perfectly express Eli’s determination and rationality. Speaking slowly, walking at a steady pace, not straying from his path, Washington has an I’m-doing-this-and-nothing-can-stop-me attitude. It seems that no evil can come within a 10-foot radius while the book is under Eli’s guard.
Kunis plays the naive but strong-willed Solara. She’s like a child who just wants to tag along, but for the right reasons. It’s really sweet.
As much as many of us love Oldman, he’s disgusting as evil Carnegie, but he’s supposed to be and that only makes us love him more. He’s brutal to his men, he’s brutal to his woman and he’s brutal to Solara. He’s selfish, dirty and a total, slithery snake (well, it’s Biblical, after all).
With such clear-cut characters, it is a little predictable but its predictability is partly what makes this film work. Predictability, righteousness and saving humanity. It’s so un-Hollywood that it’s great. B+
Extras: Additional scenes, featurettes, commentary by Washington and directors