The Book of Eli (2010)

Review

The Book of Eli

You’re planning for Armageddon and the dismal life that follows. A few survivors, scrabbling to get by with whatever means necessary: Murder, cannibalism, what-have-you.

Question: What do you stock up on?

Answer: KFC wet naps.

That’s right, in the future we won’t have soap or water, but we will have little packets of alcohol-soaked napkins which we’ll have to use when we want to get clean — a luxury on the barren and gray post-apocalyptic earth.

It’s the little touches like this that make The Book of Eli worthwhile. It’s a curious film and one worth recommending, even if it does feature a rather rote story and some generally pedestrian acting.

The story: It’s 30 years post-WWIII, and getting by isn’t easy. Most survivors cling to makeshift towns for protection, while Mad Max-style raiders make easy work out of people who risk traveling in the wilds. Untainted water is hard to come by. Many people are blind, due to the ‘flash’ or the UV rays that came after. Everything is dirty.

Among these lost souls walks Denzel Washington’s Eli (though he doesn’t offer a name to anyone), a man heading west for an initially unknown reason and with an unknown item in his pack. The latter, it’s no spoiler to reveal, is a book… and according to Eli, it and some magical voices have granted him the power of invulnerability. Early fights with street bandits bear out that this may indeed be the case.

Along Eli’s gray and miserable road trip we meet Carnegie (Gary Oldman), perhaps the most obsessive book collector on earth — and wouldn’t you know it, Carnegie wants what Eli has. Cue the armored cars, Gatling guns, and slow-motion shootouts.

The Hughes brothers haven’t made a film since 2001′s From Hell, and the duo hasn’t changed much since then. They have put together a remarkably straightforward film here, appropriately quirky thanks to the post-Big-One setting and the Oldman Acting Experience, as out there as it’s ever been. And yet, it’s all designed to be accessible, with Mila Kunis still managing to appear cute as a button 30 years after shampoo has become unobtainable.

Ultimately, though, The Book of Eli can be frustrating: Once its little mysteries are answered (what’s with the shaking hands thing?), Eli becomes a rather straightforward movie, and one which will suffer on repeat viewings. Kunis, always hit or miss, is as miscast as Oldman is hammy. And there’s a twist ending, too: One which is simultaneously intriguing, nonsensical, and features a guffaw-inducing Malcolm McDowell.

The Book of Eli is mostly memorable for its little treasures (Carnegie ordering a paperback of The Da Vinci Code to be burned, say) than anything it thinks it has to say about society and survival.

Now can someone please tell me: Why is it that I suddenly want fried chicken?