Thursday, September 16, 2010

New on Blu: The Book of Eli

| by Allan Stackhouse |

If you're like me, you didn't bother to see this film. It may have interested you at the time of its release but it just wasn't enough to get twelve or however many dollars out of you to see some Denzel. Even with my $12 in tact, Denzel delivers in The Book of Eli. Not only is his acting great but the technical elements were visually stunning as well. I unfortunately had to rent this on DVD because the Blu-ray copies were out at Blockbuster but even displayed with an upscaled image, the cinematography was well done.

In its first eight minutes, there is no dialogue. Nothing but Eli's actions and the disarray and shambles of his surroundings tell a story. There are no people around him except the dead. Everything is barren, indicating some sort of post-Apocalyptic event. He searches in a cautious manner, despite the silence, for something we come to find out are shoes. This dependence on setting, props, costume, and cinematography to set up the story is brilliant. I wish more films would rely more on those features to tell their stories.

Eli as a character is complex - he is a fighter, intelligent, and religious. There is a scene where he slowly drifts into the shadow from a tunnel and, as just a silhouette, quickly dispatches seven armed hijackers. The action is beautiful. Body parts fall and blood flies from Eli's whetted blade. Eli is established early on as an anti-hero. He does not allow the hijackers female member to come with him. At the point when Eli sees a couple getting murdered, he does nothing except recite, “Stay on the path” while the woman screams for her life. This reluctance to assist others despite a small amount of effort to do so asks the viewers if he's really a hero or if his quest is really that important.

The fight scene in the bar was lively on its own with heads being offed left and right but the camera's movement adds another layer of dimension to it instead of this angle after that angle and another angle to feature this move, etc. The camera completes two 360s, mixed with some rotating closer angles, before Eli dispatches the last of his attackers.

The conflict of the film is centered around the book, its value worth taking lives to protect. That importance is unfortunately manifested in a very melodramatic manner in the film's second and third acts. Gary Oldman's Carnegie hurting Solara's mother (Jennifer Beals) to get her to tell him what Eli had? Call me very bored. The action fortunately makes up for it with its revelation that Eli is bullet proof, simply walking away from the gunmen and using no more than 1 or 2 bullets to dispatch each one. The reasoning behind this being holy is acceptable but the revelation that Eli was blind the entire time was too much.

One actor's acting that I did not appreciate was Jennifer Beals'. Her vacuous stare into nothingness and ability to still walk around unaided was so distracting. It wasn't until the end of the film that I realized she was blind. There could have been any number of things to help indicate to the viewer that she was visually impaired but I found the question to nag me like a mosquito. I understand that this was to give Carnegie his final blow but we see it coming and we don't care because it was so poorly constructed in the first place. Gary Oldman's performance is way too over the top. It's abundantly theatrical in comparison to Denzel Washington and Mila Kunis' restraint.

The sepia tones helped to give the sense of a barren atmosphere. It's not explained what exactly has happened to the earth, which is fine since the story is not a dying human race story. The brownish tones indicate some sort of massive pollution or something going wrong with the sun. The visual storytelling in this film was very well done. In one scene, Solara stops in the middle of their walk, still reeling from her attack. Eli comforts her, revealing growth in his character.

I was a little confused as to what the message the film was trying to convey. Was it save the environment? Save religion? I don't know. This ends up being the film's downfall. The story is not particularly exciting. Eli is trying to get to the copy of the bible to the west so it can do what? Save themselves despite the country being laid to waste? There's no actual stakes in this film which is very unfortunate since it was complemented by rich images and terrific action sequences.

Despite my high marks for its technical achievements, I didn't completely enjoy The Book of Eli as a film. The film's entire focus is on the importance of this book which, in the end, did nothing. Talk about anticlimactic. Had the story's choice been to use this anticlimax to highlight a more tangible or visual purpose, I would have understood. The film ends with book being published and placed on a shelf. Okay, so it's just going to sit there? It's not going to be spread to the masses and change the ways of the vagrants in the few and small towns that still exist? This importance completely gets away from the film when it could have easily provided an appropriate conclusion for an otherwise okay film.

As a side note, I adore that Allen and Albert Hughes, two African American brothers, are making a name for themselves with their now second big budget film but if they expect to make films higher than their average 6.8 rating on IMDb, they are going to have to be more aware of the direction of the story.

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