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"The Book of Eli" My 0-10 rating: 5 Genre: Action, Adventure Directors: Allen and Albert Hughes Screenplay: Gary Whitta Starring: Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis, Jennifer Beals, Michael Gambon, Tom Waits Time: 1 hr., 58 min. Rating: R (brutal violence, vulgarity) A very, very strange movie. And it surely holds your attention. With Denzel Washington doing lots of super-heroic hand-to-hand against awful baddies, how could it be otherwise? "The Book of Eli" offers yet another post-apocalyptic scenario, this one apparently happening after, we're told, a great hole, a "Flash," opened in the sky during a war, called a Solara. It scorched the planet. What comes of that event? A desert world, of course. And the film really does not try to be that different from the Road Warrior offerings except that there are no car chases. The only trick is that both hero and villain are being motivated and led by, of all things, the Bible. Whether the film will be approved or denounced by good Christians is anybody's guess. The obligatory cruelty and sadism are there, of course, and one does feel encumbered by a distinct lack of imagination. That is, until the ending. In that, there is some sign of sense and plausibility. Some. Bleak in its lack of any sign of a comic touch, with a relentlessly barren, choking texture of desert dust in its motif of sepia-toned visuals -- almost black-and-white in many parts -- we feel starved for some variation, some punctuation in the somberness, some nuance. Still, Denzel does it as far as charismatic performance, and you can probably live with that, even as you wait for some real statement on how humans corrupt the sentiments and sublime messages of the Good Book. Almost fatal for the film, in the final analysis, is its innumerable instances which leave you with the question, "Yeah, but how?... what?... where?" In other words, its unanswered improbabilites and contradictions are more than discomforting. Yet, amazingly, the suspense factor is quite commanding, the film, the predator-prey situations being exceptionally well set up.


So this is Eli, a mysterious wanderer for 30 years across the barren dead earth landscapes after the great Destruction. Donned, as required for this film genre, in sunglasses and knapsack, he also carries a fearsome blade -- and the world's only remaining Bible. A voice has commanded Eli to go forth West with the Bible and he will see his way to the basis for a new Earth. The roads upon which he travels are replete with the remnants of a destroyed civilization that had existed before the Flash, which, we're to understand, were because of the war. We'll be shortly be treated to Eli's hand-to-hand combat prowess as he encounters cannibalistic barbarian marauders who are fools enough to attack him. With his (it seems) somewhat supernatural powers and his blazing blade, he makes short work of all of them but one. It may be assumed that the Book helped him in this. The single survivor inquires as to where he's headed. He says, "West." That's it. Across the landscape are the untended bodies over the 30 years. No attempt has been made by anyone to rebuild a semblance of civilization. But that's good enough to get him to a desolate emptiness which may have been a town at one time. In a deserted hotel behind a desk, bodyguarded by a tall bald hombre and an ornery-looking runt, sits Carnegie (Gary Oldman). He appears fascinated in reading a biography of Benito Mussolini. Carnegie is a ruler by the intellect. All of those around him are stupid. But he knows the water source, something which keeps him in power. It happens that his primary quest over the years has been -- a Bible. There are in fact but a few survivors who remember how things were before the apocalypse. But there exists a belief that religion was the cause of it all, particularly an effort to destroy the Bible. Carnegie believes he can attain supreme power only by finding the Word. Carnegie sees that Eli has it. He demands it. Eli refuses. Carnegie sics his thugs on him. Big mistake. Now the two are mortal enemies. Carnegie's ragtag little army, in their jerry-rigged vehicles, chase after Eli. Also an object of this same pursuit is a babe, Solara (Mila Kunis), who was named after the great event. She's Carnegie's stepdaughter, and here's her chance to escape. They find refuge in the remote house of an elderly couple (Michael Gambon and Frances de la Tour) who serve them tea and play records on an ancient Victrola (the only hint of a humorous moment in the film). Carnegie remains frustrated, not helping his situation with his blind wife (Jennifer Beals) whom he abuses. His head goon, Redridge (Ray Stevenson), had desired Solara all for himself. The film is a curiosity in what it does and does not do. It's of equal parts of under-achievement and incredulity.

Marty Meltz, http://www.martymoviereviews.com, was the 30-year films critic for the Awardwinning Maine Sunday Telegram till his column was terminated for budget cuts on Dec. 31, 2007.


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