It seems like the older I get, the less I care for post-apocalyptic novels and movies. There are plenty of good ones, of course, including some of the classics of the genre, but my tolerance for worldwide grimness and bleakness seems to be dwindling. Because of this tendency, I was hoping that I’d like THE BOOK OF ELI, but it wouldn’t have surprised me all that much if I didn’t.
As it starts out, the movie certainly has “grim and bleak” down. Denzel Washington is a “walker”, somebody who wanders the mostly deserted highways of an America all but destroyed by a war of some sort. It’s never really explained what happened, but civilization has disappeared for the most part and survival is a matter of kill or be killed. Since Washington’s character Eli has lived for thirty years after the disaster that changed the world, he’s gotten really good at killing.
He wanders into what remains of a town that’s ruled by a local tyrant played by Gary Oldman with his usual lip-smacking evil. His main henchman is Ray Stevenson, who was so good as Titus Pullo in ROME. The always appealing Mila Kunis is on hand, too, as a young woman who wants to get away from the town.
Oldman’s character has been searching for a particular book, and it just so happens that Eli has the only copy still in existence. (No points for guessing what the book is. It’s pretty obvious right from the start.) When Oldman finds out that Eli has the book, he tries to take it, but Eli gets away. Kunis’s character goes on the run with him. From there, the rest of the movie is mostly chases and fight scenes.
It took me a while to warm up to this film with all its bloody nihilism and eye-straining sepia-toned photography. But I wound up getting involved in the story, and Washington, Kunis, and Stevenson are all very good in it. The action scenes are staged so that you can tell what’s going on, at least most of the time, and the ending is pretty satisfying. It’s certainly not a feel-good movie, but I think it’s well worth watching. And it’s kind of gotten me in the mood for something else post-apocalyptic, so we’ll see if anything develops from that.
Another Look: LAWMAN (1971, Burt Lancaster)
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