Just like Shutter Island, I must say that it’s hard to watch a movie knowing the twist before you see it. Almost everything in this movie is screaming at me, “tear me apart! tear me a new one!” and it’s hard not to oblige The Book of Eli. But hey, even if it ends up a two star, I have to do my best to criticize it honestly and with maturity. The Book of Eli is a post-apocalyptic thriller from the guys who made the movie version of From Hell. You know what? Screw you, Book of Eli. You’re getting both barrels blasted in your face. Because the last thing I want to see in a post-apocalyptic thriller is what you’re delivering me.
I’m gonna start with actors, cos this movie is making it hard to talk about anything other than Gary Oldman’s stunning performance. And let me tell you, Gary Oldman is once again stunning. I mean, this is a creepy mofo who manages to outact everyone in every movie he’s in. Bruce Willis said that a movie can only be as smart as its villain, and if any movie has Gary Oldman standing in as the antagonist, the protagonist better have the most powerful force in the world guarding every move they make. … The most powerful force in the world.
Screw it, spoilers start here.
Still with me? Cool. So Eli is walking west after the end, being a badass and killin’ stuff all willy-nilly. He walks up into a shelter where Gary Oldman is looking for a book, and he has one in his backpack. There is no chance that they’re looking for the book he has, right? Well, unless it’s the stupid Bible. Yes, yes, my friends, despite this movie being the first post-apocalyptic movie to take advantage of its 21st century production schedule, it still falls right into the religious medieval trappings of Christianity. And while that’s a huge bummer, let’s talk for a few minutes at least about how it takes advantage of being made in 2009.
First up, the CGI blows goats. Honestly, A Boy and His Dog looked better. Anything would look better. Go out to Nevada, find a few abandoned houses, or just build some. Recolor the Nevada sky grey in post-production. Bam, you have your aesthetic. Second, the aesthetic blows goats. Honestly, this movie is more washed out and grey than it has any right to be. It feels like I’m watching the before part of a hair-dye commercial. For some reason, after the apocalypse, everyone starts dressing like they’re in a punk band. Maybe it’s that talentless hacks are playing at making Mad Max or something. When the world ends and all you can ride are motorcycles, leather jackets are legitimate safety equipment. When the world ends and we all have iPods and TVs? I have a feeling more people would be wearing cotton-poly blends, even this far south.
I have to say, the use of long takes is fascinating. The Hughes Brothers are good craftsmen. They know what parts of movies look good and what parts of movies look awful. They can construct an action sequence with the same aplomb as Michael Bay, but with actual emphasis on story over style. It’s refreshing to know that even in the midst of a plot this heinously awful, the directors are still doing their best to make the movie look both good and their own. However, as I must inevitably remind you, these are the same Hughes Brothers that changed From Hell from a fascinating deconstruction of Victorian society as being truly responsible for the Jack the Ripper murders and made a whodunnit about a detective who gets very, very stoned.
And at the end of the day, Book of Eli fares no better. This movie blows. It blows more than I can say. It’s not offensively bad, to be sure, but why should inoffensively bad be any better than offensively bad? And why can’t offensively plotted material be as bad as offensively executed? Why should a Bible be the most important book after a nuclear holocaust, and not a book on surviving nuclear winter without resorting to cannibalism? There are a lot of cannibals in this movie. Maybe longing for the Bible was a bad idea.
I’ve waited for an American After-the-End epic to rival 28 Days Later since I saw that movie in theaters. 28 Days Later may be my favourite post-apocalyptic movie of the 21st century. It captured our generations isolation and despair better than most movies with further ranging disasters. The only other shortlisted nominee I can come up with is Children of Men and that’s really more like “slightly before” the end. This movie fails at almost everything those movies capture about the end of the world. It has no atmosphere, it has no tension, it has no discovery, it has no despair. Book of Eli sort of flails around, looking for a theme, looking for something important to say and failing at every turn.
I suppose this may be a personal thing and that my politics might be coming into effect more than I should allow them to, but I despise anything that tells me that the Bible is something to be desired above all else in a world where clean water is a precious commodity. Why should religion be our last leg to stand on, when it didn’t help the Ancient Romans when their way of life was destroyed? What did Zeus do for them when their time was ending? What will the God of Abraham do for us when we destroy ourselves in a much more spectacular way? What has any god ever done for the human beings that pray to him that cannot be ascribed to chance?
Certainly anything can be ascribed to chance. However, if there were a god, there would be some form of intervention in our fate before we killed ourselves, right? Surely the god we pray to, night and day by a thousand names all over the world would have saved us before nukes blinded us. Like they blinded Eli. Oh, by the way, Eli’s blind. This movie blows. ONE STAR