Monday, 25 April 2011

The Book Of Eli

The Eli Bird
Catches The Worm

The Book of Eli US 2010
Directed by The Hughes Brothers
Entertainment In Video Region 2

I first saw The Book of Eli on its initial cinema release back in January 2010... which was about three months before I started writing this blog, so I’ve never had an opportunity to properly review it before. In the intervening year and a bit since that initial viewing... I’d kind of forgotten what a great movie it is. It’s especially perfect for people of a certain age (a little bit older than me) or people who have a fondness for a specific thread of cinema which was intertwined with actors like Yul Brinner or Charlton Heston in the early seventies.

Seriously people! Remember those gritty, widescreen, school-of-hard-knocks science fiction movies which were made in the early seventies... often dealing with a post-apocalyptic or dystopian future society with a lone protagonist out to beat the odds? I’m talking about those groovy flashes of celluloid scientifiction like The Omega Man, Rollerball, Planet of the Apes, Westworld, Soylent Green or The Ultimate Warrior? Well this movie is almost a direct throwback to those harsh sci-fi dreams of bitter pills and high ideals and although Denzel Washinton plays the lead in this movie, quite solidly and brilliantly I should add, this is seriously a film that Yul Brinner would have picked up and had a lot of fun with...

And just to up the stakes a little in the astonishing unlikeliness that such a film should exist coming from modern Hollywood, this film also pushes the “lonesome-gunslinger” element which would often be found in those kinds of narratives and really pushes the boundaries between post-apocalyptic sci-fi and the Western... and in this case it’s very clear that The Book of Eli is very much a spaghetti western in all but name and costume.

I’ll try not to give away too much here because, although the twist ending is something which is fairly easy to get near on your own, the variation on that twist (and the characterisation clues to that specific brand of that twist which I obviously didn’t pick up on) is actually a pretty good one and makes even more sense when you watch the film a second time.

The Book of Eli features Denzel Washington as Eli, roaming a dog-eat-dog future-got-f*cked-world carrying a book which he doesn’t let anyone else see or touch if he can help it. He is on a quest to head West, where he is seeking “a safe place” for the book. Meanwhile, Gary Oldman as Carnegie, the villain of this particular piece, is constantly sending his rapacious thugs, who work for him enforcing his laws in the one-horse town he has in his grip, to look for a specific book which is the ultimate weapon for reuniting humanity. And for reuniting... what we’re really talking about is controlling. The book in question has a cross on the cover and Oldman is very much aware of its power... and so desperately needs the book that it turns out Eli has in his possession... tension rises and the situation is exacerbated until Eli, and Mila Kunis, are forced to make a run for it to retain possession of the all important book.

The film is pitch perfect and never really puts a step wrong all the way through... even down to the casting of Flashdancer Jennifer Beals as Mila Kunis’ blind mother. And she’s in some really good company on this one... there are some great little actors in here... like musician extraordinaire Tom Waits as a shotgun-cautious shop owner. And Malcolm McDowell as... oh no, don’t want to spoil that crucial appearance for anyone. And a small turn by Michael Gambon and Frances De LaTour who turn out to be a little more than what they first present themselves as to “our heroes”. Yes... you read that right... Francis De LaTour. If you want to see Leonard Rossiter’s landlord Miss Jones from Rising Damp frenziedly wielding automatic weaponry then this movie is for you.

There’s really just good stuff to say about this movie. Like highlighting just how interesting the cinematography is, which ranges from orange and blue palettes (ok, maybe that colour scheme is getting a bit... um... popular these days but it works for me) dominating certain scenes to a very drained or desaturated look to some of the exteriors... so much so that some of the stuff almost, but not quite, looks like it’s shot in monochrome. This is presumably to give some of the exteriors the feel that “something bad for the planet” has taken place in the last decade or more and it really pushes the point home on a subconscious level methinks.

The images are accompanied by a quite beautiful score by composer Atticus Ross which, while it does nothing to push the obvious spaghetti western angle of the movie (and possibly rightly so since this film has such a solid, heart of a story beating inside it) has kind of an ethereal tint to it which sounds, to these ears anyway, like a cross between a mature blend of Ry Cooder’s Paris, Texas and Simon Boswell’s Hardware, and which helps push the atmosphere of desolation permeating the film at all levels. This is heady stuff. However, if you do want at least a musical concession to the films of Sergio Leone (albeit not one of his westerns), which perhaps helped inspire a certain styling to the way this film is shot, then you need look no further than Carnegie’s bald-headed right-hand man, who tends to whistle snatches of Ennio Morricone’s score to Leone’s Once Upon A Time In America at certain moments during the film. A nice little touch but a jingle I would personally have taken from one of Leone’s westerns... jus to help push the point home.

I don’t think there’s really much more I can say about this movie now other than I can’t recommend this film enough... but I will make one more comment because I don’t think this film did very well and I think it deserves a lot more support from audiences than it has so far received. There’s been a lot of talk in recent times about the emergence of an “intelligent science-fiction” and films that have been stuck with this label are quite often not very inspiring or... as it turns out... I any way intelligent. The Book Of Eli is definitely, however, one of the few films that really lives up to the expectations of the new “intelligent sci-fi” syndrome and its champions. The difference being that this movie is very much a film which centres on a kind of emotional intelligence... and perhaps the emotional heart of the proceedings without really worrying if audiences are going to “get it” or not. This film is a well written, well acted and well directed piece of “science-fiction road movie” and should definitely not be missed by anyone who loves such things.

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