- Rated R
- Buy the Blu-ray
All photos © Warner Bros.
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
here’s a joke somewhere in the fact that the Hughes brothers’ first film in nine years takes place in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, but while the sibling directors don’t exactly have the best track record in town (their only hit remains their 1993 debut, “Menace II Society”), “The Book of Eli” will still find an audience thanks to the involvement of Denzel Washington. It’s not that the veteran actor delivers a particularly memorable performance as the title character, but rather he makes sitting through the film a lot more fun. And “The Book of Eli” is definitely fun at times, but more often than not, it suffers from lethargic pacing and a noticeable lack of sharpness from its directors.
It’s been 30 years since the world was transformed into a blistering desert by nuclear war, and in that time, a zealous loner named Eli (Washington) has been on a journey to deliver the last remaining copy of the Bible to some unknown location in the west. Eli may not look like much, but he’s more than capable of surviving the hostile environment populated by hijackers and cannibals. That is, until he runs into trouble when he passes through a town governed by a ruthless man named Carnegie (Gary Oldman). Carnegie believes the book has the power to revive civilization, but when Eli refuses to surrender the Bible and join his posse, Carnegie goes to extreme lengths to acquire it.
A plagiary-heavy mix of post-apocalyptic films like “Mad Max” and “The Road,” and classic Westerns like “A Fistful of Dollars,” “The Book of Eli” wants to be both a hyper-stylized action movie and a dramatic study of the importance of religion in society. Of course, what it really ends up being is a mindless popcorn flick with some great action sequences and some of the most superfluous shots of people walking ever recorded on film. Allen and Albert Hughes’ idea of heavy drama is a series of long, gazing shots at a burnt-out sky, and although the washed-out visuals certainly help in creating their dystopian world, constantly panning across a sea of sepia-hued clouds doesn’t really emote much more than it did the first time. They also have an annoying habit of shoving the camera into their actors’ faces for close-ups that just screams a lack of creativity.
How they managed to persuade Denzel Washington to sign up for the film is a big mystery, but it probably had something to do with the actor wanting to let loose for a change. It’s a good thing he did, because while Washington doesn’t quite elevate the material beyond B-movie territory, he does make it more entertaining thanks to his naturally charismatic personality. His co-stars don’t fare as well – particularly Oldman, who despite playing his share of eccentric baddies in the past, fails to make much of the terribly one-dimensional Carnegie. You can blame the writing for that, but it’s the Hughes brothers who ultimately undo their own movie by dragging it out longer than it needs to be. “The Book of Eli” definitely has its moments – including a hilarious cameo by Michael Gambon and Frances de la Tour as a locked-and-loaded couple that Eli meets along the way – but unless you go into the film with low expectations, you’ll probably walk out wishing the Hughes brothers disappeared for another nine years.
Two-Disc Blu-Ray Review:
“The Book of Eli” arrives on Blu-ray loaded with special features like an awesome picture-in-picture video track jam-packed with interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, and screen to storyboard comparisons, as well as a series of mini-featurettes ranging from production design to stunts. Also included is a short animated prologue that fleshes out Carnegie’s backstory, a discussion with academics about surviving a real-life apocalypse, a small collection of deleted scenes, and a digital copy of the film.