The Book of Eli (2010)

*. The Book of Eli was met with generally bad reviews. Ed Koch, writing in The Atlantic, began his in rather absolute terms: “This picture is one big waste of time, including that of the actors and those in the audience who pay to see it.” Not much more to say is there?
*. I didn’t hate it. Then again, I can’t say I liked it either. I can’t even call it interesting, which is a word that usually gets slapped on movies that we don’t like but can’t be bothered with figuring out why. I didn’t think there was anyting particularly interesting about The Book of Eli at all.
*. The story is a conventional post-apocalyptic fable about a wanderer named Eli (Denzel Washington) making his way through a shattered landscape. What it most put me in mind of was a spaghetti Western, with Eli as the taciturn gunslinger who rides into a corrupt town being run by a nasty thug. Chicks dig him, but he remains distant, true to some otherworldly sense of mission.

*. The local boss is played by Gary Oldman. When did he become the go-to guy for these kinds of eccentric villain roles? Maybe after his turn in Léon: The Professional. He had been a brutal but ridiculous pimp in True Romance earlier though. Then Zorg in The Fifth Element and a terrorist in Air Force One and the unrecognizable puppetmaster in Hannibal. By 2010 he had the part down pat.
*. While I didn’t think any part of it was interesting, I did find The Book of Eli to be entirely watchable. It seemed like the kind of movie you could watch in a daze, half-awake. Nothing surprising happens and there’s no plot to bother following but it is cool to look at. The wasteland has a bleached, epic video-game feel to it that makes it look like the surface of the moon accompanied with illustrations by Andrew Wyeth.

*. Here’s one thing I did make note of. Just before we see Carnegie (Oldman) getting a shave the camera pans in from an overhead shot of the street where a very large dog is hopping along. I think this very large dog only has three legs! Yes, that’s the kind of thing I was noticing. Because there was nothing else to pay attention to.
*. So why did so many people dislike this film so much? Maybe it was the religious angle. That Eli has memorized the entire New King James Version of the Bible, like one of those book people we meet at the end of Fahrenheit 451, is all well and good, but has God given him super powers as well? If the movie is meant as a Christian or moral parable, what is the point? I guess it’s pretty obvious that Eli, who may be blind, has the word of God in his heart, while Carnegie, who just sees the Bible as a source of power over others, can’t read it. But that seems awfully trite.
*. Trite, or bland. It all just goes toward that daze-like feeling I had watching this movie. Washington and Oldman are both very comfortable in their roles. Visually it looks empty and grand. It might be a dream. Did I really see it or was I asleep? I need to find out about that dog.

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