It’s been 30 winters since “the flash” and Denzel Washington is carrying a King James Bible west on his way to the ocean. It’s made clear very early on that it’s not a good idea to get in his way.
The Hughes Brothers Book of Eli is another entry into the “post-apocalyptic” genre (which we seem to be seeing more and more of lately) and is one of the smartest and most fun action movies I’ve ever seen. Denzel Washington gives another stellar performance as the lone wanderer, Eli, who’s on a quest that he doesn’t fully understand, motivated and protected by a force that he can’t entirely comprehend.
The opening scenes of the flick set the tone by showing us a stark, desolate world where ash and soot cover seemingly everything in sight. The movie is shot in such desaturated colors that it’s practically in black and white. The first ten minutes, which are almost completely silent, show Eli’s day to day struggle just to survive in this destitute future. He hunts for skin-and-bones wild cats out in the woods, holes up in abandoned dwellings, takes the boots off of dead men that he encounters and is constantly in search of the most precious possession available – water. His sole creature comfort is an IPod.
It’s when Eli stumbles into a neighboring town that the full scope of the flick snaps into focus. Gary Oldman (in a amazingly evil performance) plays Carnegie, a viscous leader who controls the motorcycle gangs and has them murder and pillage walkers for their valuable possessions (imagine a world in which shampoo was something worth killing over). Both he and Eli are roughly the same age and old enough to remember the world before “the flash”. Carnegie is in search of a certain book – one that may or may not even exist anymore after the war – but if it does, will give him the right words to have absolute power over everyone and expand his influence beyond the town.
There’s a very strong religious message skating on the surface of Eli. In the right hands, religion can be a tool that helps us gain a deeper understanding of ourselves, but in the wrong hands, can be corrupted and used simply as a means of control. It’s stated outright that the book has a purpose, but it may have even been what caused the war in the first place – which is why most of them were burned immediately afterwards. Eli knows he’s supposed to carry the message, but to where? To what end? He’s not sure. He just knows that Carnegie is the wrong person to share it with.
The amazing action sequences help carry the weight of the story, though. One scene in particular where Eli is stopped by a gang of hijackers is among the very best. You may have seen it in the trailer where standing under a bridge, he warns that if anyone puts their hands on him, they won’t get them back and then silhouetted against the bleak skyline, he proceeds to take down half a dozen men without barely batting an eyelash. The Hughes Brother craft several other tense scenes like this, borrowing elements from both western and samurai flicks. The results are pretty goddamn impressive (especially in an insane shootout sequence in the third act).
January always seems to be the month where studios dump the flicks that they don’t have much faith in, but The Book Of Eli has all the appeal of a big summer blockbuster flick with the right amount of socio-political undertones to keep it smart and original. It comes out swinging as one of the best flicks of year. Definitely check it out.