Mad Max Suffers Midlife Depression: The Book of Eli Movie Review

For the longest time I’ve been conflicted about watching this movie.  On the one hand, it has a bunch of people that I like in it, specifically Gary Oldman and one of my favorite musicians Tom Waits.  I also like Mila Kunis ever since That 70s Show ended.  The problem was, the movie just looked lousy.  Well, I finally decided to turn it on while I practiced drawing and found that my initial assumptions were more or less correct: it’s a mediocre movie with a good cast.  To put a positive spin on it, at least I wasn’t distracted too much from drawing.

It’s sad to me to think about how all of these actors aren’t getting better roles on a regular basis.  Gary Oldman, for example, is one of the best actors currently working in Hollywood.  He’s a guy you can tell absolutely commits to his roles, even if the movie is not particularly good.  His career is littered with duds, but he’s just about always good in them.  I mean what actor could play a punk rock icon like Sid Vicious then much later play Commissioner Gordon?  Now his most recent release is a co-starring role in an Amanda Seyfried goth-romance vehicle Red Riding Hood.  Sorry Oldman, I can’t possibly sit through that one.  On the bright side, it looks like he’ll have a much larger role in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (read more about that film here), a film I’m definitely excited about.

What about Denzel Washington?  I think once upon a time Denzel was a talented, versatile, and charming actor.  Giving him the Oscar though was like a curse.  Ever since winning for Training Day, he’s basically been playing the same character over and over, the tough-good guy/bad guy who plays by his own rules.  It seems to me he’s also turned to mumbling more and more, and generally giving terse and turgid performances.  The Book of Eli is no exception.  I’d like to see Denzel start doing different sorts of roles.  I’d be fine with him doing something like  The Preacher’s Wife 2.  At this point, I’d even settle for John Q 2.  Please, just not another unwatchable Tony Scott styled actioner.

To get back to The Book of Eli, the movie is about Eli travelling across a post-apocalyptic America transporting a copy of the Bible like it’s contraband.  The bad guy Carnegie (Oldman) wants the Bible so that he may use it to manipulate the minds of men to do his bidding (kind of like a religious terrorist).  Most of the movie then is a cat-and-mouse game, which doesn’t actually have much to do with religion, except that Eli quotes Bible verse before wailing on dudes (something that’s become a movie cliche ever since Pulp Fiction).  I think at it’s best, the movie’s a visual evocation of a nightmare, but at it’s worst, it turns into the sort of happy dream Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh might have had (both have written sci-fi novels).  Much of the film has a right wing fantasia feeling to it.

I think one of the noteworthy scenes in the movie is, surprisingly, a parody of conservatives, even if it doesn’t mean to be.  Denzel and Mila stop at a suburban home maintained by two genial WASPs (one of whom is played by Michael Gambon, another fantastic actor who for some reason helped make this picture).  After being invited in, and offered tea, Denzel discovers behind this veneer of affability, these two are cannibals, and not only that, but they have tons of guns conveniently hidden away.  So then The Book of Eli seems less like a Post-Apocalyptic future and more like a Post-Palin future (are those both the same thing?)

Towards the end of the film, even Malcolm McDowell shows up, making me ask once again, why did so many good people put their time and effort into this film?  I guess they all needed the money.

I’m sure a lot of people disliked this movie for its idealogy, but I don’t mind that so much.  I’m glad a movie actually had the nerve to mention the Bible and religion (for more about why I think religion is excised from films, click here).    What I disliked about this film was that it was an action movie that didn’t deliver much in thrills.  The problem is, the action scenes are all done in a slick, flashy style that’s for some reason popular right now.  I think inevitably with such style of filming, it’s too stylish for its own good.  I think the more stylish invention you throw into a scene, the more cerebral it becomes instead of visceral.   Instead of being excited, the viewer’s stuck thinking “Ooh that looks neat.”  I think it’s the flashy action style that also hindered such films as Watchmen and the Matrix sequels.  Wouldn’t it be nice just to see people punching or shooting at each other without the camera zooming in to a microscopic level.  Another thing I hate: when the camera zooms in on a bullet in mid-air.  In The Book of Eli, the camera for some reason zooms in on an arrow before it sticks into a cat.  That happens just a few minutes into the picture.  I should have turnd The Book of Eli off there.

P.S.  If you’re a Tom Waits fan, don’t bother watching this one.  Tom has a pretty small role and doesn’t get to do much of anything.  He has a bigger role and gives a much better performance in Terry Guilliam’s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.

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