I saw the Book of Eli was available on Netflix (I think it’s recently added, as I hadn’t noticed it before) and given that I am now running a post-apocalyptic role-playing game, I decided to have another look. I had watched it previously and enjoyed it, so I wanted to see if it held up.
I believe it does. I think Denzel Washington delivers another excellent performance. He brings conviction and gravitas to his role, and even though he is Denzel Washington – I mean, it’s hard for him to disappear into a role when he has such a presence – I believed him as Eli. Gary Oldman is always great, though his performance is a less nuanced. Mila Kunis is solid in everything in which I’ve seen her, and Ray Stevenson never disappoints.
The action is well choreographed and while there a couple of set pieces in which the speed and precision of Eli’s moves are not as evident, there is no shaky-cam. Part of Eli’s invincibility in the early fights is given a supernatural patina mid-way through the film, but there is nothing particularly super-heroic about his abilities – at least not relative to other action films – especially given that his adversaries are generally portrayed as amateurish and clumsy, thugs who are suddenly faced with a trained and competent opponent.
This is a good movie but not a great movie. I think the Hughes Brothers who directed it were going for something more epic or penetrating than what I saw. I saw a very competent post-apocalyptic actioner with western tropes baked into it.
The reveal of the book’s contents and the villain’s purpose are not particularly surprising. It’s very much telegraphed. However, the reveal that happens at the end – the twist – falls flat because there is absolutely no real foreshadowing throughout the movie. A twist has impact when we can go back through the movie and see how it explains specific choices or scenes. I knew the twist going in, and no groundwork is laid through the rest of the movie, so it feels like a complete cheat.
There is the possibility that the Hughes Brothers and writer Gary Whitta meant to imply something about the power of the book and its impact on Eli, but even working on that assumption, it still falls flat. There should be something to foreshadow it, some clue, but there is nothing, so it feels cheap.
However, that is a really minor nitpick.
I give the Book of Eli 4 really cool sunglasses out of 5. This is a very competent post-apocalyptic actioner whose performances overshadow the workmanlike script. It provides great inspiration for setting and characters, and I found it totally entertaining.