Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Book of Eli

The movie to which The Book of Eli owes its greatest debt turns out not to be Hillcoat’s adaptation of The Road or any of the Mad Max films, but rather WALL•E, which is finally and inevitably establishing itself as a benchmark against which all future post-apocalyptic yarns will be measured. Denzel Washington’s Eli is a simpleton, moved to action (programmed, even) by a force he doesn’t really understand to shepherd a MacGuffin from one place to another and save the human race. He even has an old iPod, which he keeps charged with a battery the size of a sandwich. Problem is – and I know Washington can be quite a dish to those so inclined – Eli’s nowhere near as cute as WALL•E was, and not half as fun to watch.

“It’s not a book, it’s a weapon!” shrieks Gary Oldman at his number one, watering at the mouth over the power a slumlord might gain were he to end up proprietor of the sole remaining copy of the Bible. This nifty premise – Eli’s Bible becomes the grail in a post-holy crusade – is the foundation upon which the whole rickety fiasco stands, but directing team Albert and Allen Hughes don’t even begin to tackle the ramifications of it.

Oldman has a few weapons of his own, including rocket launchers, a ridiculous chain gun that hangs out of a truck, and the only remotely interesting one: Mila Kunis’ virginity. In a wasteland where all the characters are mucking about trying to avoid cannibals, Kunis’ Solara somehow still looks like she just stepped out of an American Apparel ad. Everyone else is covered in dust and wearing the boots of dead men, but Solara possesses an un-creasable pair of perfect skin-tight jeans and matching flannel – perfect to keep you warm at night and plus they make your ass look hot at the Grizzly Bear show.

So naturally Solara gets tossed around like so much bartered wood. Oldman owns her because his mistress Jennifer Beals is her vulnerable mom, his henchmen all want to win her body from their boss, the desert scavengers want to rape her and Eli, after declining to trade his booty for hers, decides he’s supposed to protect her. He’s a missionary who normally refuses to intervene when he comes across a biker gang tearing the platties off a poogly devotchka because to step in and save her would be to step off his path to carry out God’s will. But Eli must do as he is told by the Voices in his head and they remind him that hot sidekicks are good for business. It’s the Christian thing to do, after all.

The unsettling thing is that Eli’s quest is ultimately underlined as righteous. The villain’s understanding of the Good Book is, though “evil”, sensible and practical: he wants to jumpstart religiosity amongst the few people left on Earth so that he can control them and become (more) rich and powerful. Eli, on the other hand, hears God (or something) and carries the book where he is told, carefully soaking in its messages along the way. The notion that Eli might be full of it is actually what keeps the movie going as long as it does; when he is finally revealed to have a literally divine power working for him, it’s a little sickening.

It’s the kind of lazy conservatism that would be worth attacking if it weren’t handled so sloppily. This isn’t intended to be a message movie because nobody thought through the implications of the ridiculous twist ending. I could say that I like the notions fostered that the printed word will prove to be pretty important, even to the guy who also has the last iPod, but I don’t know if that’s the message either. It’s really all little more than an excuse to blow shit up.

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