THE BOOK OF ELI is the latest flick from The Hughes Brothers, the directors behind the impressive DEAD PRESIDENTS and the piss-poor Alan Moore adaptation FROM HELL. ELI lies somewhere in between: it's visually imaginative and audacious in its premise, but it's so ludicrous in its execution as to undermine its credibility. The story has Denzel Washington play a lone man with kick-ass knife- skills walking a lonely highway in post-apocalyptic America. This basic set-up has some similarity with THE ROAD, leading some critics to draw comparisons. But that's just nonsense. Viggo Mortensen looks like he's been walking for years without a haircut or soap or a decent meal in THE ROAD. In THE BOOK OF ELI, all the lead characters sport a look that's more Hollister Hobo - pearly white teeth, skinny jeans, cool boots, latest-season sunglasses. Where THE ROAD is shot in a menacing sombre murky grey, THE BOOK OF ELI is sunbleached and de-saturated. It feels more like the Wild West than the end of the world as we know it. So, back to the story. Our lone man with mad kung-fu skills walks into a Wild West town, run by local fascist Carnegie, played by Gary Oldman. (We know he's a Fascist because he reads Mussolini, because the film is THAT subtle. Seriously, it wouldn't have surprised me if Carnegie were sending out biker gangs to find Unobtainium). Carnegie sends out illiterate biker gangs to hunt down a book - a book that Eli happens to be carrying - that he believes will give him the power to dominate mankind. And, in case you really can't guess what that book is, I'll say no more about it. Everything else about the town is pure movie cliché. There's a seedy bar where the out-of-towner kicks off a fight. There's a cute chick in distress (Mila Kunis) who looks like she has full access to a functioning hairdresser. There's even a general store full of goods that apparently isn't knocked off, despite the fact that it's only guarded by Tom Waits with one gun.
So, Eli realises he needs to get the hell out of dodge and the Hughes Brothers make a lame attempt to have him bond with the cute chick who insists on following him. We pause for a truly bizarre encounter with an old cannibal couple, played completely improbably by Michael Gambon and British comic gem, Frances de la Tour. I'm almost tempted to say that this movie is worth the price of admission for this crazy scene. But that would be a misjudgement.
Because in the final act, THE BOOK OF ELI wraps itself up in a manner so stupidly that you really shouldn't respect anything about the film at all. But, in case you are going to see it, stop reading here. Those of who have seen it, continue on, after the release date notes.
THE BOOK OF ELI is on release in the UK, US, Greece, Russia, Canada, Kazakhstan, France, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Estonia, Poland and Romania. It opens on February 3rd in Egypt; on Feb 10th in Belgium; on Feb 18th in Australia, Germany and New Zealand; on Feb 26th in Finland, Italy and Sweden. It opens in March in the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Singapore, Argentina, Brazil and on June 19th in Japan.
Okay, so there are three major problems with the ending of this film. First, you know that even after Carnegie gets his hand on the book, he's not gonna be able to read it. (I was betting on it being in a foreign language). So there's no suspense. The second major problem with the film is the way in which the rug is pulled from under the audience with the revelation of Eli's blindness. This was just totally lame. A blind man simply would not be pulling off the manoeuvres he had pulled off throughout the movie, and I'm not buying the "divine protection" crap. The final problem is that, even if we buy the blindness and the surprise, what was the point? I mean, the world has been near-annihilated by an apparently religious war and we're meant to be all happy that religious books have survived? Don't get me wrong - I'm not anti-religion - indeed, I am a practising Catholic - but shouldn't someone in the movie at least QUESTION whether Eli is doing the right thing?
Ah well. The whole thing was frustratingly ill-conceived.