A post-apocalyptic tale, in which a lone man fights his way across America in order to protect a sacred book that holds the secrets to saving humankind.
Year 2, Film #4
THE REVIEW: Hollywood has a big fascination with making films about the apocalypse, or in the case of The Book of Eli the aftermath of an apocalypse. This is the fourth film in a row on the topic (all made within the last five years) and I have at least three more planned. For the first time in this second year of the marathon though, I wasn’t fully entertained. Many of the reasons why will probably be familiar to those who’ve read a lot of my reviews but the short version is this: there’s a difference between suspense and unnecessary build-up. The Book of Eli can’t tell the difference.
Something I often stress here is that no matter how averse you may be to the beginning of a film or a questionable premise, it still deserves a chance. You should never make up your mind five seconds in because from there on, everything you see in the film will fulfill your confirmation bias. Don’t confuse that with not forming any opinion about the film until the end though. The point is you should be open to change as the film progresses – you may feel the same as you did at the beginning or you may feel different. For The Book of Eli, my initial reaction was that it was unnecessarily slow. It’s an attempt to be mysterious and suspenseful, which in some ways it is, but it goes too far. There’s a give and take to mystery – the audience can’t know everything (that would defeat the whole purpose) but we need to know something. Just teasing constantly does nothing but annoy the viewer. Annoyed might be the wrong word, something like dissatisfied is probably more appropriate but either way it’s not a positive thing.
We see Eli (Denzel Washington) wandering a deserted wasteland all by himself. It’s a great view of a post-apocalyptic world, but it drags on. About a fifth of the way through the film, Eli wanders through a town which is run by Carnegie (Gary Oldman) and the film picks up a bit. We learn about the conflict – Carnegie wants a book (I wander what book that might be…) – but even at this point it feels like things are moving along at a glacial pace. There’s plenty of blood-filled action as we see Washington de-limb a bunch of people so it’s not visually boring, but it just doesn’t feel engaging. At one point in the film, Eli is talking with Solara (Mila Kunis) about faith and says, “It means that you know something even if you don’t know something.” While faith connotes trust, I’m making this quote fit my point which is that gut instincts can be right. The Book of Eli does get slightly more interesting as the story unfolds but for the most part, it’s as slow and boring as it is in the beginning.
There is one part of the film (that happens at the end) that is absolutely, hands-down unexpected and mind-blowing. Go a mile away and then a hundred more and you still won’t see this thing coming. This “thing” (which is a bit misleading, it’s not really a “thing” per se) brings into question everything that happens before. You’re going to want to go back and see if there are any clues to the existence of this “thing”. I looked at a few reviews after I watched the film (because I couldn’t understand how people like it as much as they did) and a recurring theme I noticed was an impressment1 by the ending. Both Roger Ebert and Honky cited this twist (or twist-like) as one of the best parts. I agree this was fantastically done and well-orchestrated, but it was too little too late. It deserves praise for its high level of originality and does make the film a bit better retroactively, but it doesn’t make it worth watching.
My initial reaction, sadly, turned out to carry on throughout the film. It does get slightly more interesting as things progress and we finally learn little bits about what happened to Earth, but what we learn and see aren’t engaging. The Book of Eli is merely filled with enough action and suspense to keep you from wanting to stop watching; not a level that has you begging for more. At the end, there is a major turn of events that is entirely unexpected and unpredictable (whatever you do, do not spoil this ending; go in not knowing - it’ll be worth it). On the one hand, I would not recommend watching it because there a plenty of other, better, apocalyptic films out there. But, on the other hand, despite my statements to the contrary, there is a small part of me that does want to watch it again just to see if the ending is foreshadowed anywhere. The choice is yours.
THE RATING: 2 out of 5
I’m really going for the “to dazzle” definition of impress but the actual definition of impressment – “force to serve” – isn’t far off either; force being a good descriptor here. ↩