I honestly knew nothing about The Book of Eli until a friend of mine recommended it to me. I didn’t realize that this movie was going to have a desolate, post-war setting like the Mad Max franchise, so I was surprised by what I saw in the first few moments. My friend has spoken quite glowing praise over A Quiet Place because being involved in film production himself, he was mesmerized by its silent storytelling. So, I can see why he thought so highly of The Book of Eli: hardly a word is spoken as we first see Eli, played by Denzel Washington, roam through an empty land of vast rocky, dusty plains right after he kills a cat in an ash-tinted forest with his bow and arrow.
The only words we hear is a small exchange he makes with a mouse as he rests in an abandoned home. Eli has only two initiatives in mind: go west, the direction of the sun, and keep a locked book safe. What’s in this book that is so important? That’s for you to find out!
However, it would have been phenomenal if this silent storytelling remained consistent throughout all of Eli’s journey to only God knows where, but alas, it’s got a 47% on RottenTomatoes for a reason. The minute Eli’s westbound travel brings him through a burnt-up town that looks like an old Hollywood western, things turn south. While Denzel Washington’s performance is decent enough, the other stars are far below passable. Gary Oldman plays a real scenery-chewing bad guy who turns unintentionally funny when he erupts in angry outbursts. But Mila Kunis, whose character passively joins Eli on his journey for whatever reason, gives probably one of the worst performances I have ever seen. She looks angry when she is supposed to act scared and speaks with insufferable pauses between her words as if she’s struggling to remember her lines (I’m highly positive that was indeed the case).
There’s also issues when it comes to basic screenwriting, particularly in the handling of Eli’s character. Any great screenwriter should know that of all the characters in the script, the protagonist, or lead, should be the one to go through the most change by the end. But Eli hardly has any internal change by the end, his female companion goes through more change than he does, which makes me kind of wish the story was about her instead, except with an actual actress in that role.
On a technical scale, I also noticed some issues with little things, such as the coloring of the image. The screen sustains an almost monochrome, sepia-tinted appearance, but when outside, the clouds have a rather unflattering greenish tint that looks like the green channel in photoshop was cranked up too high. Plus, the CGI is blaringly obvious in many shots, with obvious greenscreen effects that fail to blend the actors with their surroundings.
Ultimately, the interiors are far more pleasing to look at than any of the exterior shots. It’s easy to tell that a lot of thought and work went into the production design, although it’s not much different in imagination compared to other post-apocalyptic films, it fits the demands of this film. I said before how the town Eli stumbles into almost feels like an old Hollywood Western, and the setup within this area certain imitates that: a bar feels more like the underground of the town’s crime lord, a showdown on the streets has the staging of the sheriff confronting the outlaws, yet despite how many rules of old Westerns it follows, it still manages to revise them. The hero of this town is not the typical cowboy the citizens look toward, but an African American, a mysterious nomad whose goal is not for himself, but a cause greater than anyone could possibly fathom.
If anything from this movie really leaves a lasting impression, it’s the climax. Without giving anything away, it gives those of religious faith a real perspective on how much hope there really is in our future, despite how ugly things get concerning the people’s safety. For those not so religious, it offers new insight on the real value of a book. Much like the staying power of Fahrenheit 451, this movie teaches how written words are preserved history, it is through understanding our own past that we have a clear sense of where we must go. That’s what really makes The Book of Eli stand out from other dystopian works that many others miss out on: the reality of how powerful a written historical record can be.
That said, there may be moments while watching this when you are forced too frequently to suspend your disbelief. When Eli reveals his one life purpose and what he does in the final moments we see him, his miraculous skill is quite farfetched to the point of being wildly unrealistic. Although some religious viewers could argue that what he does in the end is a miracle from the Lord, but hey: that’s what makes it art! So ultimately, this is one of those movies where you either like it or you don’t. I fell somewhere in the middle, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t able to appreciate it for what it did right. So, to my friend who recommended this to me, thank you.
If there is a specific movie you’d like to see graded, or if you are interested in guest blogging for my site, please email me at Trevor@TrevorsViewOnHollywood.com for your recommendations.
Have a great weekend, and happy watching!
The Book of Eli. Warner Bros. Web. <https://www.warnerbros.com/book-eli>.
Ebert, Roger. “The Book of Eli.” Digital image. Roger Ebert. Disqus, 13 Jan 2010. Web. <https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/the-book-of-eli-2010>.