A Bible, an iPod, and the post-apocalyptic power of prayer…
Starring Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis, and Jennifer Beals. Directed by the Hughes Brothers.
I was not expecting the amount of Christian allegory this movie had. Think “The Road” with a copy of King James being toted around.
It’s post-apocalyptic America and just like the movie “The Road,” we the audience have no clue as to what happened. Apparently, a big FLASH occurred and a good chunk of society became blind. Those not blind walk around wearing sunglasses all the time. Some electronics (e.g. an iPod) work but since there’s no running electricity or water there’s not much of a use for any of it.
Washington is Eli and Eli’s coming or rather going west to some unnamed destination. When we first meet him he checks out an abandoned shack, stocks up on supplies, trades in for a new pair of boots, and listens to his iPod (at least digital music makes it into the future). The next day Eli is confronted by a gang of road hijackers and in a fight sequence paying homage to the House of Blue Leaves’ silhouetted fight scene from “Kill Bill Vol. 1” Leaving no one alive but a woman acting as a decoy for the gang let me quote another Tarantino flick, “From Duck ‘til Dawn,” in saying that he’s a “mean mother-f’n servant of God.”
Eli makes his way into a Western-looking town ran by Carnegie (Oldman). Carnegie is a good ole boy and big fish in a small pond, ruling over the small town from the upper floor of a bar. He sends out his minion of thugs to bring back books, looking for the One Book to rule them all (one book to find them and in the darkness bind them…) Eli comes to town and Carnegie is so impressed with him that he lets him stay the night to mull over the decision to work for him. Eli isn’t interested in that because he’s heading west for his own reasons. Carnegie isn’t the type of guy who takes an answer he doesn’t already give to someone and when he finds that Eli has a book, THE BIBLE, he orders Eli to hand it over or be killed. Eli isn’t much for either happening and makes his way out of town.
Solara (Kunis) is so impressed by Eli, or maybe just intrigued, that she tags along with him. She was born after whatever happened and like most of the rest of society, doesn’t know how to read. Eli tries to get rid of her but the two become traveling partners as he further attempts to head west. She finds that he’s been walking around, trying to head west, for 31 years. But the who, what, where, when, why, and how of his life is kept secret. As they’re on the run from Carnegie and his gang they have a few misadventures before they make it to the ocean and the Promised Land (of Alcatraz Island).
The movie started out okay, then went bad, kept being bad, got a little bit better, got more interesting, had a great twist, and then went dumb, all in that order. It felt like Washington was walking around a “digitally” created apocalypse and it shows. Also, the use of sepia and gray filters did not feel completely even. The Hughes Brothers should have really checked out “The Road” or at least Hillcoat’s “The Proposition,” or maybe even “The Road Warrior” and come up with compelling gangmembers. Something.
The movie comes with two twists. The first twist works WELL and I really liked it. Carnegie has his ass handed to him and this veritable King Nothing watches as his empire dismantles. My problem was with plot twist number two, which is that Eli is BLIND. I’m sorry, my suspension of disbelief became shot to hell on that idea. The Hughes Brothers may have tried implying it in a few scenes but very rarely, if ever, did Washington’s character seem to be even remotely blind. Having sight and reading the book with regards to Plot Point #1 would’ve worked just fine; instituting Plot Point #2 but not entirely backing it up through the entire production is just bad filmmaking.
And finally the amount of heavy-handed Christianity in the film seemed a bit much. If not for language and violence this film bordered on being something that could’ve been shown on, or produced by, the Trinity Broadcasting Network. I’ll probably catch some flack for this because I usually praise the use of spirituality in a movie but this movie reeks of Christianity in every frame. Society as a whole is “lost” and the Bible leads the way. Eli is following the Word of God to deliver the book west. Carnegie is the Devil wanting to use the Scripture for his own purposes…
Watch for Tom Waits (yep he made it to the apocalypse, too) as Engineer in Carnegie’s town and Malcolm McDowell as Lombardi, a librarian.
My grade: C