After suffering through the train wreck that is Daybreakers last week, I really needed The Book of Eli to be a good movie. There were times when I thought I was going to be disappointed, times I thought the movie was spinning off into the typical action flick, times I thought the filmmakers were being a little too obvious in getting their message across. But as the movie ended, the credits rolled, and the lights came back up, I was kicked out of the theater because they were trying to clean it. But as I stood outside in the rain, waiting for my mother to pick me up, I realized that overall, I really liked it.
The movie wasn’t perfect, and certain things taken by themselves really weren’t perfect. But for some reason, when taken all together, the movie just clicked for me and the stuff that I didn’t much care for didn’t matter (not too much, anyway). But this is the internet, and I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t take those few things I didn’t like about the film and rip them apart for the three or four of you who read this blog.
I felt like The Book of Eli started off as a really cool way to end a movie, but in the rush to get there the filmmakers didn’t put as much thought as they should have into how they did it. After the commercials they’ve been showing, I don’t think I’m spoiling anything for anyone when I say that Eli’s book (otherwise known as the book of Eli) is actually a King James Bible. And so far as Eli knows, the last King James Bible in existence. Now, I can buy that Eli has made it his mission to protect it. Can I buy that this is the last Bible left in the entire world? Not really. And why is Gary Oldman so desperate to get it? Because he wants to bring back religion as a way to control the people around him. But hasn’t it only been 30 years since the war that brought civilization down? I’m betting that there are a lot of people around now who were around then. Has everyone really forgotten all about God and the Bible? And what’s stopping Gary Oldman from just making up his own religion? Why couldn’t he use the Torah or the Qu’ran? When you dive into it, these sorts of questions really start to pile up. The movie doesn’t make any real attempt to answer them, so you’ll either just go with it or you won’t.
There’s a piece of me deep down inside that knows how badly action scenes can screw up a movie. But still, I loves me some action. So when Denzel Washington tells the dirty road warrior guy that if he puts his hand on him one more time he’s not getting it back, I really want the dirty road warrior guy to see how committed Denzel Washington is to that premise. I wasn’t disappointed. Still, the movie knew how to keep the action balanced with actual storytelling. When, near the end, it seems as if both sides might be heading toward one last battle royal, it dialed things back and delivered an ending that I truly wasn’t expecting. It’s an ending that might leave some people scratching their heads and certainly requires a small suspension of disbelief, but I thought it worked. A large part of that was due to the cast.
I felt Denzel Washington was a perfect fit for the movie. He exudes just enough badassery to suck you into the action, but never comes across as an action movie cliche. Gary Oldman was another story. I think he’s a great actor, but the movie never really used him the way it should have. He plays basically the same role he did in The Fifth Element, sans the funny hair and cool guns. Putting Gary Oldman into what amounts to little more than the stereotypical villian role really sucked the Gary Oldman out of Gary Oldman, if you smell what I’m cooking. Mila Kunis doesn’t exactly shine here, but after her performance I feel like I’m ready to accept her as a credible actress. I figure that if I can watch her onscreen for two hours and not keep thinking, “Oh yeah. It’s Meg from Family Guy,” then she must be doing her job.
I was a little surprised at the themes of Christianity and the evils of it the movie was attempting to explore. Some are saying that these are obvious from the film’s commercials, but I just didn’t see it. I won’t go too deep into it here, but felt that while the filmmakers used Gary Oldman’s character to illustrate the evils to which organized religion can be used for, it also presented a counterpoint in the character of Eli. I think that in the end, both Christians and non-Christians are going to walk away from this movie thinking that it belongs to them. And I take that as a good thing. I think it’s a sign that the filmmakers were able to make their movie without being too heavy-handed in the message they were trying to get across. Although it definitely lacks in some areas, The Book of Eli delivers some good performances with a genuinely entertaining story. And unlike other movies that touch on similar themes, I think there’s a chance this movie might hold up better to repeat viewings. B-