Theatrical review: The Book Of Eli

Definitely not the greatest story ever told


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Certificate: 15
Directors: The Hughes Brothers
Screenwriters: The Hughes Brothers
Cast: Denzel Washington, Mila Kunis, Gary Oldman
Distributor: Entertainment Films
Running Time: 118 mins

The end of the world is upon us. Not literally, but on the big screen it is most definitely nigh. Roland Emmerich destroyed yet more global landmarks in 2012, Viggo Mortensen endured one hell of a time on The Road and now Denzel Washington is charged with battling brutality and civilisation gone to pot in The Book Of Eli. But after setting up nicely its vision of the day after tomorrow (a world left burnt and barren after a non-specific war, folks scavenging for survival), the Hughes Brothers post-apocalyptic action thriller is a production line genre offering that appears confused as to what’s really going on “30 winters” after a war “tore a hole in the sky”.

Denzel Washington’s loner Eli is on a quest to transport a sacred book holding the key to humanity west across the States, his compulsion instructed by a voice within. With an iPod for comfort (product placement survived the devastating ravages of WWIII) and a trusty blade by his side, he’s self-sufficient and happy to avoid trouble. The only problem is that trouble comes looking for him in the shape of despotic small town head honcho Carnegie (Gary Oldman), who’s decided he wants Eli’s book to use as a weapon to rule over “the weak and the desperate”.

The monosyllabic Eli is Denzel on autopilot and while the action is up to par (a farmhouse siege stands out) and there are some nice touches in the depiction of life after the bombs dropped (in light of the sun’s powerful rays, sunglasses are a must to avoid singed mince pies, and chapstick and gloves are viable commodities), motives are left unexplained by Gary Whitta’s script, which struggles to find purpose or direction. A muddled religious allegory jostles for position with an environmental warning (“We used to throw away things people would kill for now!”) but neither come into any real focus. Some curious cameos draw a smirk, but this book would have benefited from some ruthless editing before publication.

Washington and The Hughes Brothers have lofty aspirations but a muddled message and a drab protagonist waste this post-apocalyptic wasteland’s potential.