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The Book of Eli: creating a fine balance between action satisfaction and weighty themes
If you can get past a few rather divisive elements in Denzel Washington’s newest DVD release, The Book of Eli, a somewhat enjoyable and beautifully photographed experience awaits you.
Those limiting factors would appear to be film fans’ tolerance for more post-apocalyptic, dystopian themes in a somewhat saturated market.
The second part of it is Denzel himself, who’s shown me surprisingly little flexibility over the years as an actor. Denzel always just plays Denzel, the righteous, but unassuming (dare I use the word ‘Christ-like’ in an action movie review) hero.
The Book of Eli, finds Denzel at perhaps his most righteous and unassuming as this film walks a fine line between limb-severing action sequences and more weighty themes of morality and spirituality in a forsaken world.
Fans of classic western films might also find something of interest and value to them in The Book of Eli. Our hero is a lone traveller who has walked across the burnt-out shell of the continental United States, 30 years after some apocalyptic event.
The setting is not unlike the Wild West, or Mad Max — roaming bands of motorcycle thieves, cannibals, shanty towns run by mad men obsessed with power.
Between entertaining action sequences, which most often finds our hero Eli dispatching a dozen or so assailants singlehandedly, we are introduced to the cruel necessities of this world; how a tube of chapstick, or a mouthful of clean drinking water can be immeasurably valuable.
Thirst draws our outlander hero into a settlement run by an obsessed megalomaniac named Carnegie (Gary Oldman). Carnegie has long sought what is perhaps the most treasured commodity on the planet, an intact copy of The Holy Bible, which had been eradicated by the survivors of the apocalypse.
Carnegie sees the book as an essential tool of power, a means to enslave the weak and desperate around him.
Our hero Eli, who views the book’s powers in a very different light, happens to carry the only known copy in existence.
In his escape from the town, Eli picks up a straggler, a young woman named Solara (Mila Kunis) to whom he imparts the intriguing concept of ‘faith’ — a foreign concept in an environment where trust is not possible.
And faith they will need if they are to escape the clutches of the evil Carnegie and deliver the book to safety.
There are plenty of opportunities for this movie to turn in ‘preachy’ directions, but instead directors the Hughes brothers have struck an interesting discussion of both the darkness and the light inherent in religion. Whether an action movie is the right place to discuss such things is for you to decide, but it works in my opinion.
In the homestretch there are some nice plot twists that lead to some great moments.
If you happen to have a nice TV, the movie is visually stunning enough that you won’t regret renting or downloading a Blu-Ray, or high definition copy for an extra buck or two.
By Chris Marchand