Cinema News and Reviews for the Rest of Us

DVD Review: ‘The Book of Eli’

Though I’d hardly call myself a person of faith in the traditional sense, the subject of faith is wrongfully shunned by the Hollywood establishment, which isn’t as militantly anti-religion as right wingers claim but which certainly isn’t quick to bring anymore Charlton Heston-style Bible epics to the screen anytime soon.  In a storytelling medium, that’s a great shame, because matters of faith remain at the core of what drives us as a species.  We are wired to probe beyond the reaches of what we do not understand and to use the torch of faith to lead us in what we hope is the right direction.  Modern cinema could stand to explore faith a great deal more, and that’s why it’s refreshing to see a big Hollywood film with a big star tackle the subject head-on without wrapping it in heavy irony or hyper-intellectual criticism.  It’s just too bad it couldn’t have been tackled a little bit better.

The Book of Eli is a pretty good film.  It addresses the dual-role of religion as both a tool for good and a weapon wielded in the pursuit of power.  The performances are pretty good, notably the ever-interesting Gary Oldman as a small-scale dictator looking to use the Bible to expand his power in a desolate post-Armageddon world.  It even has a few show-stopping action scenes that display some very assured filmmaking (a shootout at a peculiar farm house is exceptionally well-done).  But the good parts don’t add up to the great whole that could have been.  The Hughes brothers suffer from the same over-stylized directorial ticks that kept previous films like From Hell from reaching their potential.  The gray/brown color palette they use may be apocalypse-appropriate, but it quickly becomes bland and uninteresting.  The film also suffers from an ending that isn’t nearly as profound as it thinks it is.

Still, the performances are winning (outside of a miscast Mila Kunis) are rock-solid.  Denzel Washington and Gary Oldman are two actors who can make any film intriguing, and they play off each other very well.  Every scene featuring the two of them together is a guaranteed attention grabber.  It’s just too bad that film has to settle into “good” status when there was some hope hope of greatness in the material.  The story of the Hughes brothers’ career.

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