Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Book of Eli

It isn't hard to see how this project managed to draw such an impressive cast: ultimately, its message is good. And while it faltered, and badly at times, I don't begrudge the time I spent watching it. That's nothing to sniff at these days: my appetite for violence and hatred, even in the service of truth, isn't close to what it used to be. I'm soft in new ways every year.

But enough about me, for the moment: before I continue, I have to say that any movie that casts 'Bull' (Ray Stevenson) and Tom Waits will get my undivided attention; at least while either of them is on the screen. I hadn't seen Bull in years, and he squeezed every last ounce out of this role, such as it was. Tom is a force -- a free spirit if there ever was one -- and while this was no Down By Law, I did enjoy his character; particularly his introduction.

Spoilers follow:

This movie took a long time to get started; a long, long time. The music wasn't right -- I agree with Tarantino on the role of opening music: 1) it has to make a promise, and 2) the movie then has to deliver on that promise. This opening left me with nothing, except a vague notion that I was watching Chariots of Fire. And it was dirty, but not in the right way. Yes, things were falling apart, but the boots Eli (Denzel Washington) pulled off the guy who was hung were pristine, when we all know what happens to those victims in their final moments. I won't even comment on the iPod.

But once it started, I found myself enjoying moments. Gary Oldman can always carry a scene, and I thought Jennifer Beals as Claudia really played well opposite him; theirs were probably some of the best scenes, actually. Casting Mila Kunis as Solara was a mistake, though; she didn't detract from every scene she was in, but just about, and the last five minutes with her had me smirking when I should've been sombre. (Did anyone else think George Michael's Faith was gonna start blasting from her iPod?)

Ultimately, though, as I said, the message of doing more for others than yourself is a good one. No harm can come from taking that to heart. And the Bible finding its place amongst the holy texts of the world past was a nice touch. What bothered me was that the director didn't consistently rely on his cast to deliver that message. Washington was up to it, and did it admirably at times, as did Beals, but then for whole swathes of the movie there'd be this slow motion work, often combined with silence; it was so forced. I really liked the scene where Solara returned to the place where Eli'd been shot because it wasn't sluggish or heavy. It easily could've been, dripping with a sense of rolling the stone away from the empty tomb, but it was simple, and more powerful for that, I found.

I can't believe the appetite for post-apocalyptic films right now. Still, if some find success with this sort of message, I think that's a good thing.