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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Denzel’s doomsday better on paper

    The Book of Eli

    Alcon Entertainment

    Released January 15, 2010

    Final Grade: C

     

    Enter a landscape devoid of rational life: ash falls from the sky, roving rape gangs prowl dusty highways and semis full of battered beer cans lie wrecked and pillaged on the crumbling roadside. It’s either the aftermath of a Hells Angels mixer or the apocalypse, and either way, times are hard.

    Nobody in the post-apocalyptic world of “”The Book of Eli”” cares to comment on how society effectively ended, least of all the laconic wanderer Eli, played by a grim Denzel Washington channeling his rampaging role from “”Man on Fire,”” minus the human affection. Equipped with token Matrix-style, bad-ass sunglasses, a knife the size of a small child and a battered sawed-off shotgun that has no doubt been instrumental in some unseen tour of duty, Eli is exactly the sort of person you don’t want to meet should rape and robbery be your hobbies.

    Eli’s mission, however, is about as peaceful as any doomsday agenda can get. Carrying the last known copy of the King James Bible in his satchel, this reverent road warrior travels West to ensure its safety in a world where a few convincing words can be devastating in the wrong hands. Said hands belong to Carnegie, the scummy founder of a small refuge in the eternal desert played a bit too enthusiastically by a scheming Gary Oldman (a.k.a. Commissioner Gordon, Sirius Black). In the fashion of any lustful landowner from a Clint Eastwood Western, Carnegie tries to pry the book from Eli first through bribery (the pristinely out-of-place Mila Kunis serving as bait), then intimidation and finally a straight-up manhunt across the wastes, inciting all the typical executions and explosions we anticipate from a Warner Brothers action flick.

    This familiar plot escalates to an anticlimactic ending, leaving the film’s engrossing visuals with the weighty burden of redeeming an unsatisfying story, and in this task they are somewhat successful. The first 20 minutes of “”The Book of Eli”” are easily the best, shot in beautiful high-definition that makes both sweeping panoramas of deserted America and uncomfortable close-ups of Washington’s dirt-encrusted face oddly irresistible. Eli’s first round of fisticuffs on the road is shot entirely in silhouette, offering a clever reprieve from the graphic violence that directors Albert and Allen Hughes became synonymous with in their gory Jack the Ripper thriller “”From Hell.”” The novelty of the imagery, unfortunately, quickly degenerates along with the moratorium on violence, forcing the shaky plot to carry the audience’s attention.

    With apocalyptic paranoia so ingrained in the Zeitgeist, it doesn’t take much to sell an end-of-times story these days. “”Book of Eli”” stands as evidence in its borrowed use of typical conventions like the scorched American deserts from “”Terminator Salvation”” and rapacious redneck scavengers from “”The Road”” (neither of which would be quite the same without “”Mad Max””), unable to fully capture either the electrifying spectacle of the former or the psychological shock of the latter. Coupled with a plot that becomes more questionable as it progresses, “”Eli”” is one doomsday for which you need not set your clock.

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