MPAA Rating: R/Genre: Post-Apocalyptic Neo Noir Western/Stars: Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis, Ray Stevenson, Jennifer Beals, Evan Jones, Joe Pingue, Frances de la Tour, Michael Gambon, Tom Waits, Chris Browning, Malcolm McDowell/Runtime: 118 minutes
I think it is safe to say that a narrative that deals with the end of days is not one that is really all that new in the grand scheme of things. Oh make no mistake: there have been quite a few in the way of slices of cinematic pie that seem to have checked all of the possible boxes including Y2K, misinterpreted omens from the Mayans, attacks from outer space entities, nuclear annihilation, a plague, the undead, and the list goes on and on. Yet what a lot of people aren’t perhaps aware of is that this fixation with the end times is one that has been on the mind of humanity ever since perhaps the Book of Revelations in the Christian Bible. A tome that revolves around a series of visions held by the Apostle John that are supposed to be symbolism and things to look out for when the end is nigh. Of course, along with all of the aforementioned material however, I also feel that it isn’t the apocalypse just yet if there are still people around who could either start to right the ship for humanity or to give us a rebirth in terms of our faith in the good that we can still potentially bring to the table. To that end, while the slice of cinematic pie I am reviewing today in 2010’s The Book of Eli at first blush appears to be just another entry in a steadily increasing roster of bleak end of the world movies, this is one is also quite different from the others in that this one comes equipped with an astonishingly integrity-laced, immersive, and fairly faith-based overhead that investigates how crucial it is to keep sacred those things which are still honorable and decent in a world overrun with wickedness in the hopes that generations after ours can maybe adopt the policies of good rather than evil and maybe have a fighting chance at allowing the human race to rebuild from the ground up rather than continue to wallow in despair and the machinations of evil.
The plot is as follows: The Book of Eli opens its riveting saga as we see a very skilled and very battle-torn individual making his way across a desolate landscape of what used to be called the United States of America. We soon see that the world this man lives in is one that is made up of equal parts brutality, rancor, and death. A world where violence of all kinds, befuddlement, and agony are king and where belief, integrity, faith, and the idea of a God seem like they are ancient history from a world that has long since gone the way of the dinosaurs. We soon see that our hero’s quest is to give the world that so desperately needs it a message of serenity and comprehension though just where he is deliver this and to whom he is supposed to give it to aren’t exactly clear to him. As such, our hero is faced with just letting his intuition guide him whilst having faith that he will get where he needs to be and see the person he is meant to see. It is on this odyssey that we see our hero make his way into a community that is “run” by a spiteful and just plain wicked man by the name of Carnegie. A man who, we also discover, is looking for a certain piece of literature that he has been led to believe will help him in his mission to acquire the pinnacle of power and control over the remains of this desolate and broken world. Suffice it to say that when our hero declines to aid Carnegie in this mission, he finds himself having to outrun a group of vicious mercenaries whilst also being joined in his mission by a young woman who has slightly more faith than most that this man and the thing that he is devoted to protecting with his life will be able to give her and the world the peace it so desperately needs.
Now when looking at this film at the most basic level possible, I must be honest: there isn’t really a lot that distinguishes this slice of cinematic pie from any of the other post-apocalyptic movies that also feature a lone individual wandering about (think every single Mad Max movie ever). Indeed, much like Mad Max, this film’s hero is one who is low-key yet possesses no reservations about going to town on some people if he feels like he is being threatened. He is also slightly aloof and subtle yet also quite brilliant as well thus making him the typical enigmatic man on a mission and the kind of guy who people really admire and are scared of, but who also somehow manage to mistakenly have a low opinion of. To that end, this film to me is very much one in the same vein as one called The Postman from 1997 in that it blends together Western tropes with an end of the world landscape though when it comes to this film, this one operates as a way darker and thematically riveting film. Both of these movies also have a common base ingredient in that they construct their distinct narratives around giving hope to a world that needs it more than ever with The Postman doing it through the mail and this one through ways I won’t spoil here. This movie also has a bit in common with a film known as The Road in that both are about surviving in a wasteland that used to be the world around us, but also because both provide a hint of optimism through the bleakness that visually represents the world of the film and from a thematic perspective underlines the rot, agony, and desperation of what used to be our world. Yet whilst this film is also the most visceral out of the group of movies I have mentioned, it is also, between this one and The Road, the most clear in what it is trying to convey to audiences. Also, unlike the latter film, this one chooses to operate more with the world around us rather than the more emotionally draining one found in the Road. Thus even though these 2 films do take on the same material from 2 distinct points of view, they also share a just under the surface theme of what it is necessary to get the world to hope again when the world has all but forgotten just what hope is all about.
Now those of you who are perhaps a bit shrewder than others might be able to pick up on the fact that the big thing this movie is keeping close to the vest isn’t really hidden as well as you might have thought at first. Yet this isn’t to this film’s detriment since this actually aids the secret in being able to have a much bigger splash when it comes to the iconography and the messages that are key to this film’s second half. That’s because the first half of this slice of cinematic pie is utilized toward constructing the main characters in this, even if they’re not the most novel characters, and setting up a mood that blends together energetic action beats with a subtle vibe that there is something on the way that’s better than all of the ingredients utilized to construct it. To that end, The Book of Eli is able to transform from a typical Action/Western film into a film that is a much more novel metaphysical viewing experience than you might be thinking. Indeed to go into a really immersive analysis of this slice of cinematic pie would result in me breaking my one rule of not giving you, the reader any spoilers whatsoever. Thus all I will say is there is quite a bit of material in this that if you have either a personal set of beliefs that include the belief that there is something bigger than yourself, a passing knowledge of certain human constructs of which Christmas is a part of then I think you’ll have no problems figuring out what I am trying to say without actually saying it. Be that as it may be, this slice of cinematic pie is one that chooses to take a look at how crucial listening to your instincts truly can be to say nothing of that little voice inside you. It’s also a movie that revolves around taking a chance, and doing something not because it will benefit you, but because it will help so many others regardless of what is lost in the midst of seeing it through.
Now operating as wonderful back-up for this film’s thematic concepts of good vs. evil, making difficult choices for the majority rather than the one, and allegorical material that compare/contrast noble and wickedness is a visual format that time and time again lets us witness as bright images placed up against an immense darkness thus making for visuals that are distinct yet have a purpose to them. Indeed film helmers Albert and Allen Hughes are able to utilize shadows brilliantly even when taking into account the gray tones on display that, although not as dire as other movies, are still quite depressing enough to get across how desolate the world has managed to become. Yet these visuals also serve another function in that because of how bright they are, they manage to give off a vibe of what is just trying to reenter a world that has all but given up on the ideas of righteousness and justice. Indeed it makes for one heck of an intriguing visual contradiction to help distinguish this film from others of a similar ilk. In regards to the performances in this, I think it should come as no surprise to learn that Denzel Washington in the lead role manages to give a fantastic performance. Yet even if a lot of people might not see it as one of his finest, there is no denying that he manages to showcase beautifully both this character’s drive and his passion for seeing this important odyssey of his through. Yet even though Washington, Oldman (who is playing another delightfully unhinged antagonist in that wonderful way only Oldman can), Kunis, Beals, and the rest of the cast all do great work, they are still rightfully passed over by how potent what this film is trying to convey really is.
All in all operating as a slice of cinematic pie that is a wonderful mix of an action, adventure, and western with a much more immersive purpose than you might think at first glance, the movie that is The Book of Eli is able to distinguish itself from other entries in the sub-genre of movie magic known as post-apocalyptic with a fairly predictable, but still very much appreciated message dealing the strength of having faith, believing in something bigger than yourself, and fulfilling one’s destiny whatever that may be. A holy trinity of thematic concepts that might be perhaps a bit low-key in countless other movies, but potently and effectively brought to the forefront herein. Yes this film is also filled to the brim with iconography and allegories that might not be appreciated by everyone who chooses to give this a watch, but if you are in the mood for a distinct and quite unique in certain aspects slice of cinematic pie that also comes equipped with wonderful work both in front and behind the camera then you should find a fair bit to enjoy herein. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Book of Eli “2010” a solid 3.5 out of 5.