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The Book of Eli
7 reviews

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Movie Details

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Directed By
Albert Hughes, Allen Hughes

Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis, Ray Stevenson, Jennifer Beals, Evan Jones, Joe Pingue, Frances de la Tour, Michael Gambon, Tom Waits

The Book of Eli (2010)
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Movie Review by John
May 13th, 2010

Today, somewhere on that series of tubes we call the internets, I read something about a feature that Google's new phone is going to utilize. Essentially, it's an audio function that can give you specific information about where you are and what you're probably looking at based on your position in the world. So, if you're checking out the Lincoln Memorial and you don't know anything about Lincoln or Memorials, you basically have your own personal tour guide in your pocket to alleviate you of your ignorance.
Considering the fact that the folks in Silicon Valley keep pumping out these phone applications and Americans keep eating them up like so many fried Oreos, it makes it difficult to imagine the fascination that we have with stories in all areas of media that take place in post-apocalyptic settings. 2008's "Fallout 3" is one of the most highly acclaimed videogames ever. Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" was an international bestseller and Pulitzer Prize winning novel (and one of the most anticipated movies of 2009). Mel Gibson, Will Smith, Kevin Costner, Charlton Heston, and now Denzel Washington have all tried their best to survive in a harsh world where people would kill each other over anything even resembling a cell phone.
There is a kind of freedom in having nothing. It reminds us that there are no expectations, nothing to lose, and thus no disappointment. It's just us fighting for survival, and the primal nature of that idea reconnects us to the world we forsook in favor of buildings and roads and Snuggies, which is something I think we all secretly want: to be reminded of our own fragility. Because on top of the world can be a lonely place to be.
"The Book of Eli" takes this setting and the thematic elements associated with it and attempts to give it a unique spin. The story is simple: Denzel Washington is on a mission from God to deliver the last remaining Bible in the world to the last remaining printing press in the world so that it can be reproduced. Gary Oldman is the mayor/evil dictator of a shantytown that Washington passes through and he wants to take the book for himself so that he can use it to manipulate the wills and control the minds of the stupid. Denzel is not on board with Oldman's idea and makes this message clear via machete to the throats of many a bad guy (clearly he's a subscriber of Old Testament ideology).
Even reading that last paragraph now, as I have written it, I know the plot sounds corny as hell. But that's kind of the cool thing about it. The setting one which we will probably never experience makes the idea of supernatural influence on the physical prowess of one man, the perpetuation of literature, organized religion, and faith seem almost plausible. It's almost like an actual biblical story from the days of Moses and Abraham, back when God recognized that He needed us and we needed Him. In this sense, the Book of Eli takes the concept of a classical film and pushes it to a whole nother level. It may seem incredible, but that's really the only reason in works.
I typically like a straightforward story that focuses on its characters and avoids didacticism via misdirection. As I've aged I've grown to hate a movie (book, person, etc.) that tries to teach me how to live, and luckily, despite the narrative elements in "The Book of Eli" that obviously place value on religion, any ham-fisted attempt at soapboxing is pleasantly circumnavigated to focus on the real story, which is possibly and unfortunately, the weakest link in this Hughes Brothers film.
The film has borrowed so much from other stories and areas of popular culture that it becomes clear fairly early on that no matter how entertained you are by what you're seeing, the movie's going to have some difficulty leaving a lasting impression. As previously mentioned, movies that take place post-downfall of Western Civilization are nothing new, and even the most core elements of the story were taken from other, better works of art. (If you've read "Fahrenheit 451," you'll know what I'm talking about.) I wish I could say that the book of Eli is "good" without feeling the need to preface that term with the word "pretty." It's fun to watch despite the superfluous and tedious Mila Kunis turned Sarah Conner bits. It has the feel and style of a movie that you can just sit back and look at with your eyes, rather than really watch with your whole brain, but it will actually probably give you something to think about. But not for very long.

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