Wednesday, January 20, 2010
He walks alone: The Book of Eli
He walks alone across a colorless desert wasteland. He demonstrates fantastic skill with bow and arrow, machete, and shotgun. He answers with a terse “No” when the attractive Solara (Mila Kuni) asks if she can accompany him. When Solara witnesses his incredible martial arts skills, she wonders, “Who are you?” Is this the man without a name in an austere, violent spaghetti Western? No. This is a man called Eli, played by Denzel Washington (whose presence carries this Hughes brothers film), in an austere, violent addition to the post-apocalyptic genre that has all the trappings of a Western with shades of Mad Max (all those souped-up vehicles that seem to find enough gas in a world devastated by nuclear war).
A world in which you eat stray cats, barter for clean water, and try to stay away from marauding gangs of cannibals (outlaws) is a perfect setting for a dusty, crumbling Western town (with a dilapidated J. Crew) ruled by same-old-sleazy-villain Gary Oldman as Carnegie (yeah, those industrial tycoons were capitalist monsters) who is reading up on the history of Mussolini but is looking for a special book: that sacred book that has the power to unite people. (Wonder what book it is?) And Eli just happens to be carrying said book when he wanders into this tough Western town to get a battery charged so he can listen to his iPod as he wanders.
In addition to other violent martial arts combats in which severed heads and limbs and sprays of blood are shown in kind of cool but somewhat cartoonish silhouette, a showdown must ensue in this wasteland town. Because Carnegie wants that damn book so he can use it to gain power! (What are the advantages of power when the world’s like this? More food? Better water? Concubines? I guess. Take over the whole devastated world?) The shootout in town is fun, and this is followed by another standard Western movie scene: the shootout at the besieged house whose thin wooden walls get riddled by small arms fire – and, in this case, a Gatling gun and an RPG. In another tribute to Westerns, Carnegie’s right-hand man, the dude wielding the RPG launcher, likes to whistle an Ennio Moricone theme (actually from Once Upon a Time in America, but you get the point).
I enjoyed Washington’s role and his portrayal of this butt-kicking man of faith, and I loved the Western elements. The ending, reminiscent of Fahrenheit 451, takes us to a devastated San Francisco where the Golden Gate Bridge has a big hole in it, and humanity’s last best bastion of hope is on Alcatraz. I liked the hopeful ending, how Eli fools Carnegie when it comes time to relinquish the book, and the whole veneration of books theme. I also enjoy Denzel Washington and any movie that resembles a Western. Not bad for my first viewing of a film released in 2010, and here's hoping this turns out to be a great year in film.