Somewhat logically parched and rather colorless in its intended look, The Book of Eli stirs up some visceral post-apocalyptic action through Denzel Washington's lone cool, prophetic titular hero.
Besides the very bankable Washington (The Taking of Pelham 123), this MLK-opening weekend big film could be the year's first new film audiences (perhaps even the lesser devout ones) will be flocking to see. It also stars Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis, and Ray Stevenson.
In 2043 there are traces of a former civilization after a war's "flash" caused a hole in the sky to fatally scorch the planet.
Directors Albert and Allen Hughes (From Hell) ably work with their crew to espouse a solemn stretch from the draining humanity through this global cataclysm. It seems that a decaying grayish wasteland has been unable to lift itself up anywhere near third-world status. Precious commodities are water and petrol with the latter seemingly harder to come by but around to fill the increasingly less intriguing storyline.
Washington's nomadic lone Eli protects a sacred book which provides knowledge that could redeem society. Oldman's sleazy, refined and driven Carnegie (who reads a Mussolini biography) is the despot of a small, makeshift desert hamlet. In heading west, unrest and brutality are commonplace as a dignified, rugged Eli dispatches those in his way when cruelly confronted.
As Carnegie becomes his adversary in planning to gain possession of such a reputed book , a laconic Eli is like the traditional protagonist in a Western who has to fend off all kinds of wantonness as a voice urges him on. The scribing underlines a problem not talked about in our society and never takes advantage of a viable tension of the use of such a valued epistled tome.
Thus, The Book of Eli hardly generates the kind of exciting scenes because of the broadness given to the plotting and characters. It seems rather easy for a charismatic Washington (also a producer) and Oldman to give what's expected of them in intense, archetypal roles which thrive on loyalty and a certain amount of theological propaganda.
Kunis (very good in Forgetting Sarah Marshall) is around as the most comely of the posers, Carnegie's adopted, drifting daughter Solara. An imposing Stevenson is the desirous right-hand man, Redridge, and Jennifer Beals sadly turns up as the abused blind mistress Claudia.
If the story (at times bleakly akin to The Road) welcomely lightens up, it's during an interlude when Eli and Solara take refuge with a spritely, nutty older couple (Michael Gambon and Frances de la Tour) with an amusing home entrance. But, overall there's little flow to what looks to be a new beginning with sporadic energy as Malcolm McDowell appears in more hospitable form near the conclusion.
Interesting enough, a bit of ironic sense of place isn't enough to offset any unfulfilled spiritual and moral resonance as the state-of-the-art lateral tracking shots in New Mexico scorches a burnished sepia glow accompanied with some varied electronic music. This seems like the more cinematically-traveled road with the upright dealing with maulers and cannibals in stereotypical grisly and sometimes cool slow-motion fashion.