When one hears the name Denzel Washinington top the bill on a project, the level of expectation suddenly raises a couple notches. The film that you were going to see with your companion on that good old Orange Wednesday suddenly becomes a priority on a Thursday.
Fact is, you feel compelled to watch it, even if you don’t get that two for one discount. You feel the need to give it a go, purely because of the brand. It holds weight, it has a certain ‘je nai se quoi’, a ‘va va voom’ that says that the Denzel will appeal to the masses and give you more firepower in Washington’s favour in the age old argument of the best male actor of this generation.
Sadly Book of Eli won’t give you any ammunition if you’re rooting for Denzel, as there is a feeling that this just isn’t his best work. It does intrigue at times but there also lies a strong sense of anticlimax, you’re left wanting more, and as the credits role you feel somewhat let down and detached from the film.
Opening strongly with a grey derelict landscape that’s seems ridden of life, we cast our eyes over a skeletal cat that wonders the earth looking for its next meal. In an almost espionage like style we see the cat come to an untimely death by an arrow struck from a man who lay lurking in the depths donning a power plant jump suit.
Nonetheless that man is Eli (Denzel), trawling the earth with general attire you’d expect to see in a Nirvana video, long jacket, army still boots, sporting an old generation ipod and ironically beats by dre headphones, and no, that wasn’t a typing error.
With no real dialogue in the first ten minutes we pay close attention to characteristics behind Denzel, the hunter, the killer the man on a mission west. But the opening scenes don’t strike you as the beginning of the film, you’re left asking questions like what’s going on, and better yet “why am I even here”.
Then suddenly, the plot picks up and we begin to understand that Denzel has a possession that is wanted one man who wishes to control the world that has been left in ruins from a war.
That man is Carnegie played by experienced villain Gary Oldman. After wandering straight into Carnegie’s town, his attention his brought to Eli, the man with the item he so desperately wants.
Carnegie uses everything within his power to get the item from Eli, putting him up in one of his rooms and even offering him a girl to spend the night with for his pleasures. A faithful Denzel declines and thus the relationship between the girl (Solara) played by Mila Kunis is born.
After a violent standoff between Carnegie’s men and Eli ensues for the item, Denzel leaves the town unscathed, in close pursuit by Carnegie and his mob and a certain understudy.
That understand is Solara who follows Denzel and seeks to understand the importance of the item he holds. It’s only then that we can pay close attention to the relationship between the two as the trudge along heading west.
However as the plot unfolds you get the impression that the Hughes brothers (the directors) didn’t really focus much on the dynamics behind the relationship between Eli and Solara. It’s almost as if her existence and character was thrown together at the last minute.
After hearing Eli say ‘Our Father’ prayer for the first time Solara doesn’t question the meaning behind it. All of a sudden we watch as she engages in an empty prayer with no thought or real empathy behind it.
At a time rapists and looters trawls the earth and religion didn’t exist you’d expect Solara to question the malarkey she heard, but she doesn’t and it suggests that the Hughes brothers didn’t really think with depth in the character of Solara.
As Denzel is tormented on his travels we come to appreciate the plus points of Book Of Eli. Shot in New Mexico the cinematography is second to none, there’s a dark lifeless feel to the wasteland environment, it allows one to really to capture the image of the aftermath of a world struck by a huge catastrophe.
Despite the fact that supporters of the Christian belief will be ranting and raving about it at every given opportunity due to the fact that the film has strong references to Christian faith, there will be mixed opinions at far ends of the spectrum about what it actually is that the Hughes brothers (directors) have actually created here.
As Eli trudges through a derelict landscape in black shades slicing through his attackers with ease reminiscent of Wesley Snipes in Blade, you wonder if Book of Eli is a thriller. Then as he finds himself in a town run by a corrupt sheriff who wants the item that Eli has you ask yourself is it a western. A tense standoff, a gruesome bar fight all points the finger that Book of Eli is a western.
But then you wonder, is this film more about faith, is it a pro Christian propaganda designed to turned atheists into believers? Did the Hughes brothers think they were creating a western, but then ended up with a ‘Christianity will save the world’ flick? And that’s where Book of Eli looses you.
Who knows, nonetheless The Book Of Eli is worth watching for its cut throat action scenes and fine cinematography, despite the fact that Gary Oldman’s villain role doesn’t live up to what we expect and the film doesn’t speak wonders for Denzel’s CV it is still worth seeing and is a worthy attempt to make the theme of faith and religion a strong topic in world cinema.
Words by Richard Ashie