Thursday, January 21, 2010

'The Book of Eli' - The Bible on the Big Screen

I saw The Book of Eli today. Aesthetically, and conceptually it's very similar to The Road. Both are post-apocalyptic. Just like The Road we don't know much about what caused the apocalypse. And just like the protagonists in The Road are 'the good guys' who are 'carrying the fire' to the West coast, so too is Denzel Washington's Eli. Though in this case 'the fire' is something more tangible than it was in The Road. It's a Bible. More on that shortly. It's pretty strange for two movies released so close to each other to have so many similarities. And both share similarities with Children of Men as well, which I pointed out in my note on The Road.

The fact that he's carrying a Bible isn't really a spoiler, this is known pretty early in the movie, although it oddly isn't referred to as a Bible until almost the very end. Prior to that it's just "that book", or "this book", but it's obvious from the outset what book it is, since Eli reads passages from it, and it has a cross on it. It's a bit humorous to me that they don't just call it a Bible, and my guess is that they didn't for fear of making the movie feel too 'preachy' or heavy handed for general audiences. And yes, just saying the word 'Bible' a lot of times is probably what Hollywood considers 'preachy'.

Eli is wandering through a post-apocalyptic America attempting to reach the coast with a book. He has heard a voice tell him that that is his mission. He stops in a city along the way where he meets a leader, and builder of a town in the midwest played by Gary Oldman. Oldman's characters has his goons out searching for a specific book because he believes with the words in that book he can become more powerful. He can use the words in that book to rule other towns, other people (because almost all books were burned after or during the apocalypse, so he believes this particular book and these particular words can have that effect, especially since not many people can read). Eli just happens to have the book he's looking for. But Eli is one bad dude, and kills a bunch of Oldman's goons and escapes. Oldman gives chase, and things develop from there.

I liked the movie thematically, but I think technically it wasn't that great. Specifically my major complaint is with the aesthetic. The sky is painfully fake-looking, and obnoxiously, obviously green-screened. In this aspect The Road created a realistic, interesting aesthetic where this movie did not. It's really bad. The shots of land, the sets, and the locations are actually fairly well done. It's only the sky that looks fake and bad. This is a little nitpicky, but it annoyed me. Also, too many of the characters look and feel like Hollywood actors. The Road made Robert Duvall and Guy Pearce so ragged and beat up they were hardly recognizable. Here all the actors look like they have had pampered lives, but they're supposed to be living in these horrible circumstances. So most of my complaints are with the production design, casting and general aesthetic. These are somewhat superficial issues, but important when making a movie.

The most interesting thing to me was that the central plot device was a Bible. This is pretty rare for a mainstream, big budget Hollywood film. And it wasn't used in a derisive manner. So that was a pleasant surprise. If it weren't for that the movie would be a pretty dull and run-of-the-mill action flick. Though Washington and Oldman are both great, as usual. The story is decent, and there are some good action sequences, specifically the shootout that occurs at the old people's house. Overall I enjoyed it and would recommend it, with some reservations on the technical side.

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