Thursday, 30 December 2010
The Book of Eli Review (Text)
The book of Eli is a post-apocalyptic action film starring Denzel Washington as the eponymous Eli, a man who is on a mission to travel west across the vast wastelands of what was once America, in order to deliver his book to whoever is worthy.
The movie opens with Eli out hunting in a polluted forest, where ash is falling from the sky and blanketing everything in sight. We see Eli crouching in the cover of bushes, breathing through a gas mask, as he lines up a shot with a bow, and kills a hairless cat. This image tells us everything we need to know about the new world, and sets up the rest of the movie for us nicely. Although it is never made clear exactly what wiped out most of the human population, and laid cities to waste, it is a fairly safe bet that the destruction is the result of nuclear fallout (Eli suggests at one point in the film that during the war, “they” blew a hole in the sky, and the sun burnt everything left unprotected by this). I was slightly worried at one stage during this first scene, because in the shot where Denzel actually fires the arrow at the cat, we see the arrow launch, then time slows down almost to a stop (bullet time) as the arrow flies past the camera, before speeding right up again to actually hit the cat. The reason this concerned me was that it is such an overused effect, and whilst it may make visually impressive shots, often ruins the pace of fight scenes. My concern at this stage was that The Book of Eli could turn into another 300, or Watchmen (in which, let’s face it, the only scene outside of the flashbacks to the days of The Minutemen and the Vietnam war which really needed to change speeds was the one where the delivery guy tries to assassinate Veidt), but thankfully this did not happen, and the playback speed was left well alone for the most part, and not used gratuitously after that point.
Visually, The Book of Eli is a stunning film. As you may expect from a post-apocalypse movie, the colours are all very neutral, with a lot of faded greens and browns, but not many reds and other such colours. This works perfectly, as the film takes place mostly in the desert, and when combined with the CGI skyline, gives quite a surreal effect, which looks just gorgeous. The fact that the movie is borderline sepia also complements the old-west town style setting that a large portion of the film takes place in, as it feels almost as though you are watching a western at times.
Except, you know, with Black people...
Storywise, the film is very much like a western in many ways as well. A large part of the story focuses around the events that occur when Eli reaches a town on his way west, and decides to stop off to get his iPod charged up (I am not actually joking about this, either, as retarded as it sounds), and collect water for his journey. Whilst there, Eli gets into a bar fight with a posse of thugs, and learns that the town is controlled by a rich overlord (Gary Oldman), who enforces his will with an Iron Fist, and treats women like slaves. Essentially, this could be a remake of any John Wayne film ever made, except the epic fight scenes that occur make it more likely to be an updated Clint Eastwood movie.
The first one of these occurs when Eli comes across a woman in the desert screaming for help, but realizes that this is a honey-trap (I guess he spent some time in Glasgow before the apocalypse?), and fights off his would-be-muggers with a giant machete. This fight scene is incredibly badass, as we watch it unfold from inside a tunnel, with the characters all silhouetted against the outside light flowing in, as Denzel hack his way through 5 or 6 thugs, including one who is wearing a mask and wielding a gigantic chainsaw… Sound familiar?
I STILL have nightmares about this fucker...
And the fight scenes only get better from there. We have a very Fistful of Dollars-esque shootout in the middle of the town, in which Eli manages to take on most of Gary Oldman’s men singlehandedly, shooting them with more ease than Jean Reno shot them in Leon, and eventually get to a shootout nearing the climax of the film in which an entire building is literally torn apart by machinegun fire. The sound effects throughout these scenes are incredible, with shifts in ambient sounds changing greatly depending on the noise of the guns, dampening some to reflect the effect the gunshots and explosions would have on your ears if such a situation were to occur in real life, and this isn’t the only element of the film in which sound is significant. In a number of places, one specific sound may be picked up on more than others, highlighted because it serves a distinct purpose – perhaps a bird flying overhead, or a far-off engine, or even a tea cup rattling on a saucer – these things are intentionally made clearer against the background noise because they have some significance, and this effect is fantastic, especially when considered in conjunction with the twist (which we shall discuss later. Obviously if you’re a regular to the site, you know I love to ruin movies, so please continue as planned. If you were unaware of this fact, then you should probably stop reading when I start to mention things nearing the end of the film).
Whilst the actual scenes set within Oldman’s town could easily be taken from a John Wayne film, there is a scene beforehand which most definitely could not be. We see Eli making his way along the road, and coming across a couple who are being harassed by a group of bikers. The bikers shoot one of them, and then go to rape the woman who is still alive, and Eli just remains in his spotting position, saying “stick to the task, stick to the task”. Whilst it is clear that he wants to help, the fact that he does not is strongly reminiscent of the scene from “Escape from New York” in which Kurt Russell walks past a couple of “freaks” raping a girl, and just gives them a distasteful look before walking on without helping. Of course, at the time, this caused a great deal of controversy, because a hero who walks on when a woman is being raped is most certainly not a hero, but this really worked for the character of Snake Plissken, and in some ways made him even more badass; he just didn’t care about anyone.
Whilst Eli evidently does wish to help the girl, given he has to talk himself out of acting, it does strongly resemble this scene, and establishes that Eli is not a flawless hero, but a man who can get scared, and who is not willing to risk his own life, and the completion of his task, to save another.
The task Eli has been set is, of course, to deliver “The book” referred to in the title, to the remnants of society still left out west. Whilst I started off suspecting that the book was going to be the Qu’ran, as it would obviously need to have some religious significance, it became clear pretty soon that it was, in fact, the Bible. I have no idea why I thought it would be the Qu'ran originally. Maybe because I'm a racist and think all black people must be Muslims? Or it was going to be making a point about how one man's God is not always anothers, so Oldman would be after the Bible when Eli had the Qu'ran, or something? I don't know. But it is, in fact the Bible, and as Muslim as Malcolm X was, Denzel is not one here.
A lot of the story, therefore, is about faith, and about the extent to which God is real, and protects us. Whilst it is made clear throughout that religion was blamed by many as the cause of the nuclear holocaust, Eli himself still clearly believes in religion, and believes that God is protecting him on his mission. We see an example of this when Oldman’s thugs (led by Ray Stevenson with a bitchin’ shaved head and sunglasses – a look I am now considering going for. Though it may not look so cool outside of a desert environment...) try to shoot Eli, and the bullets apparently are unable to either hit or injure him, making it appear as though God truly is on his side. Of course, Gary Oldman does not believe this, and insists that Eli is just a man (he actually says that exact line. I couldn’t help but think of the Frenchman in The Matrix Reloaded when he did. Though, this film is superior to that one), and tries to hunt him down to take the Bible, so he can enslave the hearts and minds of the weaker individuals still populating the Earth.
This is one of the more interesting political points of the film. Whilst there is a strong spiritual overtone to the movie, with Eli set out as the chosen one, whom bullets cannot touch, Oldman also makes the point that religion can be used as a weapon. It is the perfect was to pacify those who would fight you, whilst at the same time make those on your own side fight far harder, as one who believes they will go to heaven after they die will not be so worried about dying. This same point was made fairly effectively in Starship Troopers 2: Marauder (That’s right, I said it – Hero of the Federation is NOT a Starship Troopers film, it is a crappy low-budget horror film which doesn’t star a single member of the original cast and brought shame upon the original movie. Marauder is the only Starship Troopers sequel, and even that doesn’t hold a candle to the original), in which the humans, who have previously outlawed religion, bring it back after discovering that the brain bugs are using the idea of religion to enslave the minds of the arachnoids to make them fight, and use it as propaganda to encourage people to fight, saying “God is on our side”. Whilst this plays cleverly on the old tradition that everyone felt God was on their side (“Gott mit uns”, anyone?) and that they were the righteous ones, it also makes the valid point that the easiest way to enslave the minds of individuals and make them do the state’s bidding is through religion (Religion, after all, is the opiate of the masses. Just as quoting Karl Marx is the opiate of college-age douchebags, such as myself). Of course, this went somewhat against the analogy made in the original Starship Troopers, in which the bugs seemed to represent the Russian communists almost perfectly (a technologically inferior race that is impossibly difficult to beat owing to its weight of numbers and iron will, who destroy all the farms and humans within the “quarantine zone” whilst retreating?), but works perfectly in The Book of Eli, owing to there being no comparisons with the communists at any point.
Although, maybe I missed something? There's clearly some connection...
The only other real political point made during the course of the movie is one made by Eli when telling Mila Kunis’s character what the world was like before the war, where he simply tells her that it was a world based on greed, and not caring, in which people would throw away things that they would kill for in the post-apocalyptic world. In other words, he tells us to be thankful for what we have, and not be such greedy bastards, which I suppose is a fairly sensible moral, although I would like an X Box 360 and an HD TV. This point returns at the end of the movie when Oldman has retrieved the Bible from Eli, but in the process has lost almost all of his men, and sustained an injury himself, meaning he no longer has the power to control the town, and so through his greed to obtain the weapon to control the people, he has lost what little control he had before. And that’s the real moral of the story.
But off the story for a little while, just to say: Everything is directed and edited very competently, and as I said before, is shot beautifully. The cast is terrific, with one hell of a set of supporting actors, including Michael Gambon and, as already mentioned, Ray “The Motherfucking Punisher” Stevenson, who I was pleased to see in this, as it no longer means the last film I watched him in was the God-awful “The Other Guys”. The effects are also brilliant, with all the gore scenes looking fairly realistic, or incredibly cool when intentionally stylized, and the explosions being big yet believable (a fine line, trust me). The make up used to give most of the cast scars and burns from the war is also really convincing, and completely changes Gary Oldman’s appearance (which makes him quite hard to recognize in conjunction with his putting on an American accent).
Gary Oldman without make-up, using his ordinary accent.
But, onto the ending of the film (so stop reading if you don’t want spoilers and haven’t done so already). Near the end, we see Oldman shoot Eli, and take the Bible from him, which he takes back to his town. Mila Kunis saves the wounded Eli, and drives him to San Fransisco, where there last remaining element of contemporary society remains intact. When he gets there, Eli tells the survivors that he has a copy of the King James Bible, and when asked to produce it, tells them to bring paper. He then recites the whole bible to a scribe, who writes everything down as Eli dictates it. Whilst I expected this to happen, I was not prepared for the other revelation. We see Gary Oldman open Eli’s book, only to discover that it is written in Braile. That’s right, the motherfucker who managed to shoot about 20 guys without missing a single shot was BLIND!
Now, it is of course debatable whether or not Eli was blind throughout the entire film, or whether he was a blind man before the war, but was granted sight for his task, and then had it taken away afterwards. Personally, I think Eli was supposed to be blind all along, as there are clues to his condition (for example, when he tells Michael Gambon he must have missed the sign saying “No Trespassers”, and his heightened senses of smell and hearing), and thus is one of the ultimate badasses of recent cinema history! Seriously, if the dude could do all that shit whilst blind, imagine what he could have done if he could see – he probably could have reversed the nuclear fallout and brought all the dead back to life, or something. I therefore vote that all “Chuck Norris Facts” be changed to “Eli Facts”, because Eli is now officially the biggest badass on Earth. Whilst we’re at it, as well, who came up with the one “when Chuck Norris does a push-up, he pushes the world down?” – Everyone does that, it’s one of the basic rules of forces: there will always be an equal and opposite reaction to any force. So if I use the Earth to push myself up, I must also be pushing the Earth down at the same time.
Overall, then, I felt that The Book of Eli was a very well made movie, which told a very exciting story, and is definitely worth a watch. The cinematography is incredible, and the film is very enjoyable. I’m sure not everyone will enjoy it, but I for one really liked it. Great stuff.
This is one of the better films I’ve seen this year, and I loved its religious-epic-turned-western style of storytelling. It’s not groundbreaking in any way, but it’s a good bit of fun, and a reasonably intelligent script. To be honest, I thought it might have been adapted from a graphic novel, though looking online, it doesn’t seem to have been. It has that kind of feel to it though, which I really liked. I thoroughly recommend this movie. The sequel doesn’t look bad, either:
I hope Gary Oldman's happy he's got his fucking picture now.