Denzel Washington has the sort of actor intensity needed to play an apocalyptic superhero, and The Book of Eli positions him as such. Dressed in shades with a machete at his back, he swiftly slices at his enemies while showing no expression or sign of sweat. He's like a Bourne for the new dark ages: precise, robotic, and killing in order to survive after a war that destroys most of the earth (and its inhabitants).
You're never sure when Washington is going to throw a man to the floor or smash a head against a counter, which fills the storyline with surprise jumps and gives it a degree of intrigue — just who is this guy? But despite such entertainment value, the tale wavers on the side of ridiculous when it should be gripping. To hear why,
The movie centers on Washington's character, a man without a name for a good 75 percent of the script (spoiler: it's Eli). Armed with an arsenal of weapons, his iPod, and a Bible that he reads and wraps in cloth every night, Eli is making his way to the West. His mission is thrown off course, however, when he encounters a town in the middle of the debris, its mayor of sorts named Carnegie (Gary Oldman), and a young woman, Solara (Mila Kunis). Ironically enough, Carnegie is on a fervent search for a Bible, and he'll basically do anything to get it out of Eli's grasp.
Unlike The Road, which presented a believable world after devastation, Eli is more like its Hollywood-ized cousin. The setting is nearly identical — desolate homes, street gangs, a gray backdrop — but the script and its characters are like a glamorized interpretation, from cartoonish thugs to Kunis's skinny jeans (since when did apocalypse duds look like modern-day LA?).
Even the action resembles Saturday Night Live goofs like severed hands squirting blood. Pair this with slow-moving camera shots for a music video quality, and the plot — which is attempting a social and religious message — gets mired in silliness.
The film isn't totally a lost cause, however. It does deliver a clever twist at the end, except by that point, the script is too contrived for the audience to truly care. For most of it, I just felt bored — that is, when I wasn't rolling my eyes.
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Photos courtesy of Warner Bros.