The Book of Eli or BoE as it shall be called from this point on, is one of those films I’ve heard rumours about. I bought it along with The Road but felt BoE was only marginally less depressing and therefore it won the race into my DVD player. My girlfriend was suitably skeptical about its chances of entertaining her but when I said I thought it would be similar to Children of Men she consented to it as well. So far so good!
BoE makes a fine attempt to create a believable apocalyptic world: the grime, the cracked tarmac, the occasional hillbilly with no teeth looking for his next rape victim, yes, it’s all there. Yet we’ve seen most of this before and in the end what separates BoE from many of its forebears is the religious element of the film. It is very much a hollywood film in that it makes Christianity and God, central to the protagonist’s success, motivation and zen like demeanor: the worst scene possibly ever written for example, is in a film so terrible I can’t even remember its name, it was like 2012 and had a big tidal wave in it… anyway: a man is clutching the bible as a series of character cliches shelter in a library from the biting cold. A young girl sees the man and asks him why he is clutching the bible to which the hairy, wise, old man replies that he is not religious but the bible is the one book worth saving from the fire because it is the foundation of our civilisation. No, for those of you who are religious, I am not disputing this fact, but when you see the girl cautiously approaching the old man, a look of melancholy curiosity in her eyes, you can literally feel the vomit building, and then with the final line you see the half digested remains of your dinner on your plush new carpet. My rambling point is, that in a serious film that takes itself seriously religion should be examined as a dynamic and multi-faced beast, not as a constant force of life. I think that everyone with an open mind would agree that religion can be a force for good and evil. BoE manages to avoid the cheesy rubbish and the reason is that the bible is seen as an both an object of power and influence and also something otherworldly. The words in the bible itself, not God Himself, are the reason for all the action sequences and why the villain Gary Oldman spends so much time screaming orders and spitting at his minions.
It helps of course that Gary Oldman is the villain of the film because he is a brilliant actor. He portrays Carnegie, a man who is not just a deranged psycho but also a man trying to make sense of the world. Power hungry yes, but at the same time trying to bring order to chaos by any means necessary. Religion is swept away in the apocalypse and Carnegie sees the bible as – trailer quote – “a weapon”, and a means of control. This is the most interesting dynamic of BoE because religion is seen as a force for good and evil, a break from the Christian zen we have seen in many Hollywood films. Good obviously triumphs and there is a twist in the film which possibly pushes the boundaries of what is believable in the context of the film world, but all in all I enjoyed BoE. A 6.8 from IMDB was perhaps a tad below what I would have expected, nevertheless the flaw of the film is that the apocalyptic scenery is too familiar, only Denzel and Gary stand out amongst the grinning, dirty, wretched slugs of humanity that have survived the world war. Mila Kunis is thrown in but her character doesn’t really add anything despite a fairly good performance, and there has always got to be a possible love interest. I think the BoE had the potential to be something spectacular but falls short, a worthy effort though and worth a watch – deserves a 7+ at least I reckon.