The Book of Eli

Time Out New York Project: Issue #746, January 14–20, 2010


Dirs. the Hughes Brothers. 2010. R. 110mins. Denzel Washington, Mila Kunis, Gary Oldman.

The stylish opening of The Book of Eli — a lateral camera track through an ashen forest — attests to the spellbinding talents of ace cinematographer Don Burgess. His moody and immersive visuals (most memorably a shoot-out filmed, Children of Men–style, in an illusory single take) lend weight to this otherwise rote postapocalyptic tale from Allen and Albert Hughes (From Hell).

A mean motherfuckin’ servant of God (Washington) shepherds a mysterious book to some unknown locale out West. (The tome’s identity is fairly obvious, despite the calculatedly hushed, oblique tones used to speak about it.) After a stopover in a decrepit outpost, the holy warrior attracts the attention of a snake-tongued saloon owner (Gary Oldman) who wants to use the book for his own diabolical purposes. Cue guns-’n’-ammo showdowns, not to mention voluminous product placement—the J.Crew and Motorola conglomerates bedevil us even in the end-times.

A spunky sidekick (Kunis’s irritating barmaid) and character-role cameos *Michael Gambon, Malcolm McDowell and Tom Waits) round out this vision of a world where “Ring My Bell” played on an antique Victrola is meant to stoke nostalgia. Thank the pallid green heavens for Flashdance’s Jennifer Beals, positively ravishing as a sightless kept woman who acts as the story’s oracle. She wanders the halls of her makeshift prison like a goddess deprived of power, and ultimately takes an elatingly bloodless revenge on her captor. For a few brief moments, the film becomes something close to Greek mythology, as opposed to weak graphic-novel imitator. What a feeling!—Keith Uhlich