So yeah… This movie looks a lot like Fallout 3.
Yep, that’s pretty much all the good things that I can say about it. Stylistically, it reminds me of a game I like. Sadly that game had a better script. Please don’t get me wrong – I’m not praising Fallout 3 for the strength of it’s writing. That games main quest was very, very poorly cobbled together. The point is that Book of Eli is worse than this.
Let me make this clear: there was no reason why this movie had to be horrible. After all, it follows the standard post apocalyptic template that was laid out by Mad Max movies and religiously copied and duplicated ever since. It starts with a lone traveler (Denzel Washington) arriving at a new town only to find out it is being controlled by a group of thugs led by an eccentric mustache twirling bad guy (Gary Oldman). The good guy is just passing through, but he somehow manages to kill a bunch of dudes, steal the heart of a pretty local girl (Mila Kunis) and piss of the bad guy and then shit goes down. Standard fucking story template. All you need is to fill in the blanks. Hire some competent actors, make their characters interesting and give them clear motivations. But you have to do all three of these things. If you just do the first one, and ignore the other two then… Well, then you end up with something like The Book of Eli.
Now, in case you were wondering, the title of the movie is not just some abstract concept. It is not a book that Eli is writing about his life in post apocalyptic wasteland where most people are illiterate. That would actually be kinda interesting. It is not some literary allusion or reference. It is an actual book which is carried by a guy named Eli. He did not write it. He just has it in his backpack and therefore it is his book. Creative, isn’t it?
You have to keep in mind that this very book is the central focus of the whole story. Eli will kill to protect it. Gary Oldman will kill, maim, torture and smack around defenseless women to obtain it. You would expect it to be something extra special, but it is not. Now, I’m not sure if this is a spoiler but in case it is, be warned. I’m about to reveal what the book is in the next paragraph. Keep in mind that the movie has a twist ending, and this is not it. You find this out about 15 minutes into the first act. But I want to give you ample warning in case you want to watch this film, and you would rather not know.
Ready? Here it goes: the book is a copy of King James Bible. Yep. That’s exactly what it is. No, it is not a hollowed out book that contains a doomsday weapon. It is not a gold encrusted artifact. It does not contain a secret formula that will fix the world scribbled on the back page. It is just a plain old bible. The only thing special about it is that it is supposedly the last one in existence.
Apparently, after the nuclear clusterfuck that destroyed the world, people in the region which used to be the United States of America decided that religion was the reason for the war, and decided to burn all the bibles. Let me repeat this for emphasis: after western civilization was nuked out of existence former citizens of US decided to become atheists AND they burned all the bibles.
Yes, this makes absolutely no sense. I’m aware of that.
If this was an Anime movie, I would probably let this pass because Japanese film makers are often charmingly ignorant of the Western Judeo-Christian mindset and when they try to depict it they come up with a very interesting mix that seems exotic both to both Japanese and western viewers for completely different reasons. But it is not. So I don’t get this. I can tell you from experience that when shit goes down, people don’t burn bibles. They huddle around them. In fact, the only people who habitually burn books tend to be the radical Christian types. So this sudden role reversal seems to be quite ironic.
Anyway, Eli has the last Bible on Earth and God told him to take it out west. Yes, Eli actually had a nice little chat with God. Apparently our former president was unavailable so God called up Denzel, told him where to find a copy of Bible and told him to keep walking west until further notice.
Gary Oldman’s character on the other hand is a rich, and powerful local warlord who plans to expand his influence all over the 5 or 6 people who live in the dilapidated wasteland outside of his town. He really, really wants a copy of the Bible because he figured out that religion is a great way to control the heart’s and minds of the common folk. Right now people listen to him because he has a whole crew of angry looking dudes with guns behind him. If he was a preacher on the other hand, people would listen to him unquestionably – or at least that’s what he believes. Of course he ignores the fact that any religion will work here. You don’t actually need a bible to get people wrapped up in some belief system. All you need is a belief system and a charismatic guy selling it. I mean look at L. Ron Hubbard – he wrote some unconvincing science fiction back in the day, called it religious scriptures to get a tax break, and now thousands of people practice it all over the world. Any religion will do! But Gary Oldman for some reason has his heart set on the Christian bible, and he is not afraid to send wave after wave of men against Eli in order to obtain it. So that’s the plot for you.
The worst part is that the movie actually sort of works up until it starts dabbling in shallow religiosity. I’m not saying this because I didn’t like the religious undertones. That’s not it at all. It’s because the message of this movie is so silly and shallow it would fit right in with most Fallout 3 quests. It has virtually no redeeming qualities. Even Gary Oldman who is quite adept at playing this sort of evil characters is a bit disappointing. But that’s because his character is just plainly uninteresting. He is the standard apocalyptic wasteland mayor type character with no distinguishing features or quirks. He is a mere faded out carbon copy, compared to some more notable Gary Oldman evil characters such as Zorg from Fifth Element or the corrupt cop from The Professional. Denzel Washington pretty competent as the stoic bad ass hero, but the role doesn’t really require him to do much more than just to look aloof, distant and mysterious most of the time.
Mila Kunis is actually pretty decent in this. Some of the lines they give her are just groan-inducing but she soldiers on and gets a few cool action scenes near the end of the movie. It is always interesting to watch actors who are notable mostly for their comedic performances trying to make a transition into action or serious drama genres. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it backfires quite hilariously. Strangely enough Mila pulls it off. You would never expect Meg from Family Guy/Spoiled rich girl from That 70’s Show to be a convincing female lead, but she is pretty decent. Now, this role probably won’t propel her to a leading role in some major action film franchise, but if that’s what she wants to pursue, it is definitely a step in the right direction.
Actually, scratch that. Someone just mentioned to me she played an action chick in Max Payne back in 08. I did not watch that movie though, so Mila kicking ass and taking names was new to me. Go figure.
My final verdict is: meh. It is one of these movies that require you to turn off your brain to be fully enjoyable. There are some cool fight scenes, and the post apocalyptic vibe in the first 5-10 minutes is really cool. Sadly it fades away as soon as people open their mouths and start talking about the fucking book. You would think that you just can’t go wrong when you have Denzel Washington playing the good guy, Gary Oldman playing the bad guy, with some Mila Kunis and Ray Stevenson mixed in. But the abysmal stupidity of the plot, and the atrocious dialog just kills all the enjoyment of watching these fine performers do their thing. I won’t even mention the final twist because describing it would require me to find that picture of Capt. Pickard – you know which one I’m talking about – the one that involves the face and the palm. I’m just to lazy to find it right now.