Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews
- Category: Jacqueline Monahan
- Published on 15 January 2010
- Written by Jacqueline Monahan
Las Vegas Round The Clock
Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
The Book of Eli
Thirty years past “the flash” has the face of the earth looking like one big junkyard inhabited by disheveled nomads forced to live in protective eyewear and, sometimes, practice cannibalism. You can tell those who partake of human flesh because their hands shake.
The desolation is endless, a landscape of dreary monochromatic grays and whites, with ugliness as far as the eye can see and just as pervasive in the remaining human population. Water is nearly priceless; clean water costs even more. Blankets, gloves, shoes are bartered, but none of these has the value of even a few KFC moist towelettes. Illiteracy is rampant; so are rape and murder.
So why will one man risk his life to deliver a book to the “West?” His name is Eli (Denzel Washington) and he’s on a mission. With quicksilver reflexes, Eli will kill only to eat – small prey - or defend the safety of the book. Anyone pulling a weapon on him had better be fast, or they’ll hit the ground while still wondering what just hit them.
One such battle, primarily shot in silhouette, illustrates Eli’s amazing grace with an oversized knife that leaves a group of highway robbers deceased and strewn around him like the incessant piles of rusting ruin he must walk through on his quest.
His visit to a makeshift town and the resulting altercation with criminal bikers brings him to the attention of Carnegie (Gary Oldman) and his gang of henchmen who rule the town with a quasi-military presence. Carnegie is after one special book that has so far eluded him. Eli comes into town with exactly one book. What are the odds? I will let you surmise its contents from the structure of the film’s title.
Carnegie believes the book will control minds and that it will position him to rule the land. He just needs the right words. He’s also the kind of guy who abuses his blind companion (Jennifer Beals) forcing her daughter Solara (Mila Kunis) to offer herself to Eli to get him to stay in town.
Eli is a righteous man on a mission with a steadfast faith and unwavering resolve. After refusing Carnegie’s offer Eli escapes with the coveted book, and Solara, and the hunt is on. The rest of the film is a race toward the West, under a dangerous sun, harsh vistas and the constant threat of predatory humans. The burnt-out husk of a nuclear reactor is an ironic shelter for Solara and Eli as are an elderly couple’s home (they play a disco song on a Victrola) before Carnegie and gang descend in a hailstorm of artillery.
There are a few twists, but I’m not into providing spoilers. What you discover will be worth the wait.
Denzel Washington is capable of capturing attention just by standing still, with a powerful presence that commands any space he inhabits. Gary Oldman is a straggly scavenger, at home amid the desolation and despair. Here he’s particularly oily and despicable. Mila Kunis does an admirable job as Solara, overcoming her little-girl’s voice to morph into a believable warrior. Beals has a satisfying moment of karma toward the film’s end. There are also appearances by Tom Waits and Malcolm McDowell as a pawn shop owner and archivist, respectively.
Directed by the Hughes Brothers, Allen and Albert (From Hell) the post-apocalyptic vision is a grim sociological study that manages to inject an unexpected sliver of hope into the landscape of marshal law and radiation burns. There is a cinematic poetry in the last five minutes that speaks to the power of gratitude and divine inspiration.
It’s no mistake that the name Eli appears right in the middle of the word believe. You’ll want to, chapter and verse.