It was only a matter of time before someone took Denzel Washington’s confident teacher shtick (a recurring trait present in his performances all the way back to 1987’s Cry Freedom) and turned the actor into a bonafide preacher. Although the Hughes Brothers are far more interested in comic book appropriation of Spaghetti Westerns, Samurai films and Post Apocalyptic landscapes. It is a winning combination actually, even if the execution is far more John Carpenter than Sergio Leone or Akira Kurosawa. This is not a complaint, in fact, much like Carpenter’s scientist-meet-supernatural Prince of Darkness, it makes the blunt themes around the power of religion and spirituality play better to the material.
There is a dry wit buried in the presentation, of The Book of Eli from Gary Oldman’s town-boss, Carnagie (marvelously chewing scenery) sending illiterates out into the wilderness to find The Bible (they come back with The DaVinci Code and some Oprah magazines) to a brothel room adorned with a poster for A Boy and His Dog. L.Q. Jones’ 1975 cult post-apocalyptic flick is another underrated post-apocalyptic fable with a streak of jet-black humour.
Thirty years after nuclear war, presumably a holy war, as all the religious texts were torched sometime shortly thereafter, a long-in-the-tooth solitary walker, the proverbial Man With No Name (you can call him Zato… -err- Yojim… -err- just Eli) wanders into a one horse town in the desert to get a little fresh water and recharge his iPod (a scene involving a highly pleasurable Tom Waits cameo) but gets sucked into a war over the power of words/religion with Carnagie.
Carnegie has his sights set on empire expansion (he is introduced reading a biography of Mussolini) but feels that the whip and a monopoly on fresh water can only go so far in building an empire – in short, he needs a more powerful weapon. How about the Bible? (“Hearts and minds and all that.”) When he gets wind that Eli, who kills about half of his men in a bloody bar fight, happens to be carrying a copy. It’s a grandiose big old leather bound and locking type, not a pocket sized Gideon issue, commensurate with the budget and size of the film. Carnagie tries several approaches to obtain it before finally setting on heavy artillery. Eli, is reluctant to get involved, like a prophet (or stoic warrior monk), his focus is to stay the course in his journey “west.” But like any good western, he becomes entangled when Carnagie’s prized beauty (Mila Kunis) takes a liking to the good book or the good warrior (or both), and becomes a sort of acolyte slash damsel in distress.
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