James Helsby

Little Red Envelope #8: The Book of Eli

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In my mailbox this week:
The Book of Eli

Release Year: 2010
Staring: Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis

A few weeks ago, I discussed that some movies I really wanted to see in the theater. This was one of them. As a genre, I love post-apocalyptical films. I think that the fear of a dystopian society, or even the fear of a anarchist society, is a notion that we can collectively understand. Granted, if we lived in one now, it might seem normal, but for me these images of a future-possible, are very enjoyable.

The Book of Eli, released early this year (2010), seemed to provide exactly what I look for. A bleak story, potentially oppressive villains, and hopelessness. Boy, was I in for a shock. Not only was this film full of hope, it turned out to be one of the most visually beautiful films I have ever seen.

The Book of Eli takes place in a world ravaged by war. Not just scarred by war; destroyed. Just about all life was annihilated, when the war ‘opened up the sky and let the sun burn the land.’ In the burning, most of the people of the world died. Still others were blinded, only to die shortly later. But some, were able to hide for long enough to survive; buried in home, underground, or in some other way protected from the literal Scorched Earth.

Denzel Washington plays the part of Eli, a ‘Walker’, who was charged with completing a special task. Carrying a book to the west, across the desolate wastelands of North America. I really can’t give away too much of the subject, because this film is worth remaining as spoiler free as I can possibly make it.

Along the way, not only does Eli quickly get recognized as being a total badass, but is forced to be the guest at a tavern run by the sinister Carnegie, (Gary Oldman). Carnegie believes that Eli, given his apparent strength in a fight, would add great power to his evil gang. But Eli doesn’t want anything to do with it; just to keep moving down the path he has set upon.

Mila Kunis plays the roll of Solara, the daughter of Carnegie’s blind concubine. She is just a barmaid, who is tired of the life she has. But when she sees and experiences Eli’s faith in his task, she joins him.

I realize that this synopsis might seem sparse, but honestly, I enjoyed this movie so much that I will go ahead and say forget about everything I just said. Just rent it. Better yet, Buy It.

I really enjoy films that push the visual envelope. Some cinematographers really understand how light, lens, and action play together. Still others can understand how to add in depth of field, subject, and even the camera tracking and motion; all to convey a feeling which is either fleeting or dominant.

This film, is one of the most well filmed movies I have seen. The use of light, and exposure completely capture the mood of the world. Empty, desolate, dry. All this was understood within the first few moments of seeing Eli walking down a dead road. Add in a musical score that is just as oppressive, and it is a winning combination. AND THEN add in a really compelling story, one that I assumed would be hopeless, and show that even in a world devoid of life; the spirit is still in abundance.

The Book of Eli has some strong scenes of rape, blood and violence, but in my opinion tastefully done (I could never say that a rape scene is tasteful, but believe me, it could have been a lot worse, and a lot more graphic.) So this movie is definitely not for the kids, or the weak of temperament. But nothing is over the top. Even the most violent, blood splattering scenes are done using pure shadow play. For all I know, it could have been purely CGI.

And then you have Gary Oldman, who in my opinion is one of the greatest actors of all time, playing the part of a perfectly understandable villain. My only complaint, is that he might as well have recreated his character of Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg from the Firth Element. Not that there is anything wrong with it, it was just similar.

The Book of Eli gets a strong recommend. If you enjoy the genre, this is a must watch. If you enjoy the lone-warrior story, again it is a must watch. And if you are just looking for a little bit of redemption, again, it is a  must watch. And if you are just looking for a movie to add to your Netflix queue….. it is a must watch.

How much alcohol did it take: A whiskey coke. Just one. I don’t think I got up from the couch during the entire film.
Rating: 9/10. Visually spectacular. A redeeming story despite it’s sense of oppression. The twist at the end will leave you guessing if it is true or not, and might even make you want to watch the entire film again.

The Wife’s Retort: Despite glaring unanswered questions about ‘the war’, the cinematography pulls you in and the thoughtfulness of the task at hand keeps you rooting for the mysterious (and unusually  quick moving bad ass through the desert.

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