The Book of Eli is one of those films that, at first glance, doesn't offer a terribly thrilling premise: a post-apocalyptic world, a lone wolf who fights for whatever is left of the good of mankind, and the young, naive and somewhat annoying girl he reluctantly takes under his wing. And of course, the bad guy. Sure, there are many more films like this you can find at any local video store.
However, when you put two acting grandmasters like Denzel Washington and Gary Oldman head to head, you already know you're in for a treat. And in that respect, "Eli" absolutely delivers. Denzel Washington, in the role of Eli, does what he does best: he delivers his most perfect rough-around-the-edges, I'm-a-good-guy-but-I-don't-care routine we all know and love. He is a hard knock alright, and he has absolutely no problem whatsoever severing a few of your body parts if you get in his way. But he is still good to the core, one of the few decent human beings left in a world forsaken of decency. All you need to do to know this is look in his eyes, because the warmth and charisma Washington possesses say it all, even if he is completely covered in scar tissue.
And then there's Gary Oldman. Good old Gary Oldman. I have to say, it's really nice to see him play a stone cold, heartless scumbag once again, especially after his soft good guy role in Batman, where he was almost dorky – to no fault of his own of course, but still. This man deserves to get every inch of space to act freely, and thank goodness, the Hughes brothers allowed him exactly that. He plays a sort of mob boss, the self-appointed leader of a dingy little town and owner of the bar. He beats his wife, prostitutes his stepdaughter and he does it smiling. He is the most filthy kind of evil, absolutely rotten and loving it. Why? We don't know. He's just a bastard, and that's that.
Which is another thing I really like about this film, even though I realize many other people might actually hate it: it offers absolutely no motives, no answers, no explanations to anything, no bite size plot lines, nothing. There's no intro, no voice-over telling you where we are and what's going on. Only half-way through the film there is a scene with Eli and Solara (played by Mila Kunis) where he tells her a little bit about his life, but that's it. Like I said, some people might hate this, so if you are the kind of person who likes a formula-driven action flick with catchy punch lines and nothing to think about, this is not the film for you.
I would also like to make a little note on Mila Kunis. I must admit, I first had some doubts about her taking on a genre like this (although I was impressed with her performance in Black Swan, but that's a completely different kind of film, and other than that I only know her from That 70's Show), and throughout her first couple of scenes, she didn't do much to remove those doubts. However, as the film progressed, she got her act together and in the end, delivered a credible performance.
The visuals are stunning from start to finish. If you are a fan of the new, Frank Miller type of film style with high contrast colours and surreal scenery, you really need to see this. The bleak colours and images of darkness set against a really bright sky make the atmosphere heavy and haunting, making the anxiety of the characters almost tangible. You can just feel dryness, the desert, the hunger and the thirst. The western-like scenery of the town with the "saloon" at the heart of it, only adds to that sensation.
Another thing I'd like to mention is a quality not many modern-day films possess: the lost art of being silent. It is very rare for a film in this genre to simply be so... still. There is no dialogue except where it's absolutely necessary, and even the music is only used to actually add something to the scenes, but never as filler. The absence of sound here is just as important as its presence. Perfect.
On a similar note, the final credits go to Atticus Ross, who created an absolutely magnificent soundtrack, with music that sounds somewhat like the hybrid lovechild of Trent Reznor and Thom Yorke. It's just stellar and truly adds (emotional) value to every scene.
Finally, I'm not going to tell you what the story is about, I will simply recommend that you go into it with an open mind and no prior knowledge. That's what I did and it worked perfectly. (I will only say that you really need to stick around for the awesome, slap-in-the-face plot twist at the end!)
Of course it's not the best film ever made, but I still give it a 10, simply because it's beautiful, it's cool and it delivers a few excellent and satisfactory action scenes. And because it's been a really long time since I have downloaded a soundtrack immediately after seeing the film.
Original? No. Eye-candy? Absolutely.
Go see it.