'Eli' a solid action flick

Posted: Thursday, January 21, 2010

Look online for a plot synopsis of "The Book of Eli" and you might come across this snippet: "A post-apocalyptic tale in which a lone man fights his way across America in order to protect a sacred book that holds the secrets to saving humankind." I was double-checking my own understanding of the story when I found that. Now I am even more hesitant to begin this review than I was immediately after seeing "Eli."

Arriving home after seeing Denzel Washington's new action flick, I had mixed emotions. "The Book of Eli" is a good action movie. Period. The tricky part is that it is indeed a "post-apocalyptic tale," but the entire story, both Eli's (Washington) and villainous Carnegie's (Gary Oldman) motivation, and all the violence that takes place is because of that "sacred book that holds the secrets to saving humankind." That sacred book is the Bible.

Maybe it's just me. I hope it's just me. My automatic reaction to "Eli," though, is that someone's going to be offended. Is it offensive to some that Eli kills - and kills often, might I add - to protect the book? Is it offensive to others that Carnegie is hell-bent on acquiring the book so he can more effectively control his cohorts? Maybe. Those questions are also a large part of the reason I find "The Book of Eli" so intriguing.

For my money, the religious themes and plot points did not inspire me; they did not bug me. I'm neutral, I suppose. They did add an interesting layer to what otherwise might have been a standard end-of-the-world movie. The usual elements from other post-apocalyptic stories are still present in "Eli" (i.e. human beings being killing, raping, even eating each other), but that sacred book Eli carries with him is a new twist. I will admit that the final twist regarding Eli, and certainly involving that book, didn't do much for me. Who knows, though? Maybe that same twist will be what makes the movie bearable for some.

Whatever. It hurts my head to get too far into that discussion. And I have no idea why the previews and plot summaries are so coy regarding the book. It is the Bible and it is central to "The Book of Eli," okay?

Okay, good. Good talk.

Putting that discussion aside, the Hughes brothers (Albert and Allen) have filmed a very slick movie. "The Book of Eli" is almost entirely colored in grays, browns and other earth tones. Visually, the color scheme is very much post-apocalyptic. The character of Eli, who simply knows he'd "headed west," has enough layers to keep him interesting from start to finish. Yes, it helps that Washington (thanks largely to "Training Day," I suspect) has absolutely mastered that I'm-a-bad-dude strut. When Eli is forced to defend himself or the book, the hand-to-hand combat sequences are tight, fast, and impressive. Oldman is the perfect end-of-the-world villain; he is scary good at playing that slightly unhinged, power-hungry bad guy. When the visuals are spot-on, the characters and actors are good, and the action sequences well executed, even Mila Kunis seems to work. She plays a girl named Solara, who Eli befriends.

Kunis just hasn't come close to mastering the I'm-a-bad-dude strut. If there's a sequel, she had better practice.

"The Book of Eli" is definitely eclectic. Sure, much of the middle and the ending revolve around "the book," but the opening scene has Eli wearing a gas mask (the post-apocalyptic air isn't that great, folks) and using a large arrow to kill an ugly cat.

For dinner.

Make of that what you will; I'm still working on it.

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