Sometimes it feels like if you've seen one post-apocalyptic movie you've seen them all, with a small group of survivors, ramshackle buildings and there is always someone leading a gang looking to boost their own self importance. And to be honest "The Book of Eli" feels no different because we have all the classic elements of a typical post-apocalyptic movie with the visual difference being the high de-saturated image which The Hughes Brothers employ to make it visually memorable. But whilst visually striking "The Book of Eli" does do something a bit different to norm as we have this story of religion with a solitary man carrying the last Bible following orders he has received from God. Now this gives the story purpose but in the end this biblical aspect does little to make "The Book of Eli" that much more than just another post-apocalyptic movie.
30 years after a disaster struck the world where much of the population was wiped out a man called Eli (Denzel Washington - The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3) is heading West carrying the only known copy of the bible as he follows the words of God. Along the way he has to hunt food and trade for water which leads him to a small run down civilization where a man called Carnegie (Gary Oldman - The Dark Knight) runs the place and is sending his warriors out in search of the bible as he believes it will give him greater power. When he discovers this solitary man, Eli has the book he does everything he can to get his hands on it.
For about the first 30 minutes "The Book of Eli" feels like pretty much any other post-apocalyptic movie as we watch Eli hunt, take shelter in run down buildings and walk miles of deserted road. Yes visually it is different because we have this almost monochrome look thanks to the heavy de-saturation of the image but beyond that we are for the most in familiar territory. The only thing which really spikes your interest during this opening section is that we discover Eli is a brilliant fighter as we see him scythe through a gang of survivors who try to rob him, brutally dispatching them with his machete.
And then after this seemingly quiet opening we get to the small population run by Carnegie and for a minute it feels almost like we had entered "Waterworld" as Eli trades for goods be it for water or for a battery to be charged whilst the locals stare on at him. Now the thing is that what follows is all pretty ordinary, Carnegie discovers how much of a warrior Eli is and tries to persuade him to join him and when he discovers that Eli has the book he wants, yes the bible, he goes after him. It all feels extremely mundane and whilst we see Eli escape and hit the road, accompanied by a young girl called Solara who is interested to learn what ever Eli can teach it doesn't really go anywhere. Well it reaches the inevitable point that Carnegie and his gang catch up to Eli and we have a battle which is no spoiler because it is very obvious.
But there is more and in a way "The Book of Eli" which is just shy of 2 hours is all about the ending, the twist which comes following the battle between Eli and Carnegie. And in fairness after a lot of what is ordinary the twist is welcome although when you then think about it is surprisingly flimsy. It also means that "The Book of Eli" becomes a movie which you watch once and then don't need to watch again because the twist is the big selling point and when you know it there is nothing else to make you want to watch again.
What is for me the most frustrating thing about "The Book of Eli" is that it is a waste of talent. Take Denzel Washington as Eli, so he looks good when he gets into a fight but beyond that the character requires Washington to be stoic, almost emotionless and so doesn't allow Washington to explore the character. Gary Oldman as Carnegie is equally underused as whilst he is playing a bad man it doesn't allow him to make him wild or dangerous, just a bloke who for some reason has convinced people to do his dirty work. In the end it is Mila Kunis as Solara who makes the biggest impression because in such a bleak looking movie her beauty is impossible to disguise but even then it means her talent as an actress is not really used.
What this all boils down to is that other than a twist and a highly de-saturated look "The Book of Eli" is forgettable. It lacks oomph and certainly doesn't allow either Denzel Washington or Gary Oldman to deliver anything close to their usually brilliant performances.