The Book of Eli

Fallout 3: The Movie

The Book of Eli

Starring: Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman

By Robert Patrick

Denzel Washington waltzes around, brandishing a large blade, when he traverses through a post nuclear fallout. It’s pretty difficult to not, in all of its theatrical glory, get behind a simple theme like the aforementioned one. Eli (Washington) is cool and collected, much like your typical weapon wielding hero; he dons pitch black shades, and he doesn’t mull over who he is going to mow down. But underneath all of that deliberate fire and brimstone, he has the veracity of a wise man.

Eli is on a mission. The mysterious rogue kicks up tuffs of dirt on his way to an unknown destination. On the way he fends off a ravaged world’s most dangerous vigilantes, killing them with moves that would make Jason Bourne blush. On his way to “the west”, as he calls it, Eli meets up with Solara (Mila Kunis), a girl who tends to her blind mother in a frontier-like town. Reminiscent of many western pictures, Eli pops into a saloon, looking for no more than a drink, when he is prodded by the bar’s angst driven patrons. Soon, Eli shows his muscle, impresses the townsfolk, and ends up dealing with the maniacal town Mayor, Carnegie (Gary Oldman). I see a spaghetti western dripping all over this premise.

The Hughes brothers, known for directing such urban dramas such as “Menace II Society” and “Dead Presidents”, reemerge from a nine year hiatus to carve out their take on the now popular theme of dystopia and theatric gunplay. And though the subject matter plunges headfirst into the obligatory shootouts, poorly mannered baddies, and steel flushed skies, the Hughes brothers manage to, of all things, keep their camerawork creative and lucid throughout. The whipping action sequences buzz by, assisted by clever and frenetic editing, fleshing out a visually sumptuous spattering of hand-to-hand combat and bullet zipping shootouts. There is a lot of slick directing here, including an exaggerated scene of bloodletting under the frigid shadows of an abandoned freeway overpass. In this exchange, you aren’t even shown the details of a slick swish of Eli’s blade going through a group of marauders, but you sense the fear and anxiety.

One of the most admirable feats of “The Book of Eli” is that CGI doesn’t overly saturate the film, even though, when it is used, it’s with comically bombastic results. But mostly the film wing walks on adrenaline and, dare I say, artful direction. It’s an exercise of videogame sheen and great acting that makes this film, above all else, a great addition to the annals of action flicks.

But how about Gary Oldman? I mentioned Gary Oldman is in this, right?

Oldman’s portrayal of the batty boss, hell bent on megalomania, is vintage villainy from the heralded character actor. Oldman cranes his neck, howls at his enemies, chastises his stammering henchmen. There are shades, some deeper than others, from his older films. “True Romance” and “The Professional” come to mind, especially when he is showcasing his pockmarked morality. I don’t think anyone wouldn’t want to see Oldman in a movie, let alone one where he reads a biography of Mussolini during his breaks from headhunting Denzel Washington.

The post-apocalyptic world in “The Book of Eli” is barren, with buildings scattered here and there, ripped open with their guts, in the shape of mauled rubble, spilling out. Charred skeletons lay in dormant cars, and water is known simply as “the good stuff”. There are plenty of vigilantes that rob passer-bys of their belongings – sometimes even stopping to rape women. Some of the costume design looks borrowed straight from the book of common dystopia suggestions; outfits look eerily reminiscent of the “Mad Max” series of films. That’s okay, though, as the mash-up of influences are shot about, like streamers or confetti guns, throughout the entirety of the film. The Hughes brothers are okay with planting flags where others have planted flags before them.

There are a few unexpected cameos near the tail end of the film, including one by Malcolm McDowell, who looks like he’s channeling Geppeto from Pinocchio. And if you ever wondered what happened to Jennifer Beals, she appears, if only briefly, as a wanderer in the wasted world.

The Hughes Brothers, in making “The Book of Eli”, return to the art of making films in a big way. There are explosions; rail guns taking down entire structures; and music by Al Green. I’m not sure I’d want anything more.


Author: Rob Patrick

The program director of the Olympia Film Society, Rob is also a former San Diego Film Critics Society member. He has written for The East County Californian, The Alpine Sun, The East County Herald, The San Diego Entertainer, and the San Diego Reader. When he isn't curating a film festival, he is drinking rosé out of a plastic cup in Seattle or getting tattoos from Jenn Champion.

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