Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Book of Eli

One Man Against The World

You might be jaded already with a number of big budgeted science fiction films that are set after some apocalyptic disaster that wiped out most of humankind, and having the protagonist become some sole, lonely survivor up against others who have banded together for worse, and without law and order and faced with severely limited resources to survive, cannibalism in a wild wild west environment becomes the order of the day, with those having weapons commanding over those who don't, and a clean bed, warm food, women and clean water are precious, tradable commodities.

I assure you that The Book of Eli, despite what so many others have said, remain refreshing, with Denzel Washington in a charismatic starring role opposite Gary Oldman back to his villainous best, both being top draws in the film. Written by Gary Whitta who had fused key religious elements into science fiction, his effort triumphs against recent others such as Legion, and gets a better execution by the Hughes Brothers Albert and Allen who are sorely missed since their last film From Hell some 9 years ago, a film I enjoyed (despite the butchery here), bringing back their signature way of telling a tale through dark, brooding atmospheres. The first few minutes of the film which introduces Washington's Eli, is nothing short of brilliance relying solely on his enigmatic, silent presence, clearly surpassing that of Will Smith's turn in I Am Legend.

Washington's Eli is what carries the film, a man fixated in his sole mission for some 30 years already, doing so based on one word - faith and a vision and instruction given unto him. He's the modern day missionary, executing his god-given task without question, believing that he fulfills his calling with as little fuss as possible. He truly believes that he's being protected from harm, and of course that also meant through the use of a shotgun, pistol and one hack of a machete (pardon the pun and intentional misspelling), dispatching bandits like spreading butter on warm toast. As such he's indestructible almost, giving himself some reputation into a small town he wanders into, especially when he has in him a possession of the titular book that seems to hold the hope to mankind's salvation.

And Gary Oldman's Carnegie is the anti-thesis to Eli the messenger. For Carnegie, possession of the book is key for his power consolidation, because being able to influence the weak, the desperate and those in despair, would translate to loyal obedience. And in some ways this is quite true, in the way the power and influence religion has over the masses. In fact, Carnegie's explanation to Eli on the need for the book, is something which you'll find hard to dispute about, because even if one aspires to be a false prophet, one will require firstly the scriptures from which to twist from, since groping verses from the air just doesn't cut it even to the simple minded.

As seen in films like There Will Be Blood, false prophets are abound, and this is one of the stronger aspects of the film blatantly made so explicit. You cannot help but to think about the same concept in today's context, where one's perceived knowledge and ability would bring about tremendous power and followers because of the seeding of hope and salvation in one's mind, and top marks given if one can influentially enslave the mindsets of desperate others through faith, something which Eli also has problems trying to explain to his new follower of sorts, Solara (Mila Kunis).

For action junkies, you'll not be left out by the handful of battle sequences, where the hand to hand combat scenes have Washington showing off what he had learnt from a student of Bruce Lee, and reportedly doing so without the use of a stunt double. And if slicing and dicing opponents in close quarter combat is not your cup of team, there are also those which are laden with gun fights that just rip everything apart in their way, although I prefer the more elegant alternative of the use of the bow and arrows, with the Hughes Brothers knowing a thing or two about shooting proper action sequences that you can actually follow comfortably.

Testosterone-laden action aside, In some ways the film also touches upon the importance of culture, without which we're reduced to nothing but savages, knowledge being buried in books and encyclopedias that no longer exist save for those still in collective memory. The final act, together with its sucker punch makes it all the more satisfying and poignant even, giving you compelling reason to want to watch this a second time with that little bit of background knowledge to observe performance and nuances that had probably gone unnoticed. That said, there are still a minor loophole here and there, but as Eli puts it, it's accredited to nothing more than faith. Highly recommended!

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