What an intriguing film!
I’ll be honest, I saw the trailer a few months back and I thought it looked like a cheap action flick ribbing on the post-apocalyptic themes that the likes of I Am Legend, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and computer games Fallout 3 and Borderlands have made popular. That whole dystopian vibe is getting a bit of a rebirth these days, perhaps now that no-one’s operating in the shadow of Mad Max.
The Book of Eli doesn’t conform to your average action movie stereotypes in a lot of ways though. Sure, there are some superb action tableaus (of the sort that define the genre), you have the megalomanic villain, a part Gary Oldman has never failed at performing admirably, and the holier than thou (quite literally in this case) Good Guy/ Hero – Denzel steps up to that role, and he does a marvellous job – but there are things at work here that just don’t crop up in your bog standard action film.
Religion for instance. Yep, there’s no doubt that this film does for christians what The Invention Of Lying did for atheists, the only difference (other than genres) is that The Book of Eli does it well where Gervais’ story fell utterly flat, drowned by the message behind the movie.
Religion is the mainstay behind Eli. It drives the story, and invigorates the characters. Suddenly this isn’t just a good guy, bad guy scenario, it’s a microcosm of every religious war that has raged since the start of time.
As is so often the case for huge mainstream films, the marketing is way off. Even the tagline, “Some will kill to have it. He will kill to protect it” reeks of banality. It pitches itself has a gunslinging, knife wielding no brainer, a film that couldn’t possibly have any real message and ethos because it’s too wrapped up in stylised violence. Fortunately this just isn’t true. The message is loud and clear, the film works because whether you’re religious or not, you can appreciate why the characters do what they do. That’s noteworthy because it’s a rarity in action films these days (look at the likes of Shoot ‘Em Up for instance!)
The cinematography is fair, not groundbreaking, but certainly beautiful at times and skilfully shot. There are echoes of other films which don’t really do this one any favours, for example a scene on a boat near the end smacks heavily of Children of Men.
Don’t get me wrong,The Book of Eli is not five star fare, it has it’s flaws. Many of them in fact. The twist at the end is great but almost beyond believable (although that could be the point – the story is preoccupied with blind faith throughout), and directors Hughes, don’t shy away from cheese. As soon as Eli pops in his headphones to listen to his iPod, the sincerity of the film stalls, likewise when the girly girl in the film steps in to Eli’s robes to embark on her own mission, light glinting off her aviator’s, you can’t help but feel a little sick in the stomach. Fortunately these things are seldom, and the overall power of the film isn’t affected.
Before I sign off, I want to stress that this isn’t just a film for christians. It’s not the bible bashing mash up that outspoken atheists would have you believe. You don’t necessarily walk away feeling God is your shepherd, or offering donations to the church, nobody’s professing that you should – this isn’t The Passion after all and that isn’t the point. The Book of Eli is simply an exploration of faith, and you can take it or leave it, but either way, I think you should enjoy it.
This one I’ll definitely be getting on blu-ray.