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Jan 25, 2010

Fletch's Film Review: The Book of Eli

Everyone knows that it requires a leap of faith to believe in a higher power. It takes perhaps an even larger one to accept many of the events depicted in the bible as fact (parting of the Red Seas, changing of water to wine, the creation of the earth in six days, what have you). That's child's play compared to all of the ridiculous bullshit the Hughes brothers attempt to shove down your throat, and if you can accept all of it, then brother, you've got a hell of a lot more faith than I do.

Taking their cues from a never-ending stream of previous works - but most notably from Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns and The Road Warrior - the brothers Hughes have crafted a mostly enjoyable if derivative actioner, complete with top-notch choreography, overacting from the world's best overactor (Gary Oldman, natch), out-of-nowhere bit parts played by excellent vets (Michael Gambon and Tom Waits), and one of the least believable gotcha-twists that this moviegoer would ever be able to let go of. I'm more inclined to believe in the preposterous ending to the universally panned thriller Orphan than I am to Eli's mind-bender.

It all got me to thinking of another movie you likely won't see Eli compared to any time soon, Mike Leigh's 2008 dramedy Happy-Go-Lucky. In it, we're introduced to Poppy, an optimist so eternal that you could cop a squat into her morning coffee and she'd see the bright side in the situation, probably something along the lines of "I don't like decaf anyway - cheerio!" I found her personality not likable, but unbelievable and grating; I refused to believe that a person so cheery could exist, not without some dark side that they never let the world see.

While reading about Happy, it wasn't long before I found a bit of commentary in which someone likened the film to be a litmus test of one's own personality: if one could see truth in Poppy's being, then one was likely an optimist as well, whereas those who were irritated by her were likely pessimists. Of course, I prefer the term realist to pessimist, but the shoe fit either way.

The Hughes brothers appear to be conducting that same kind of experiment with Eli, though this time around the test revolves around the faith of their audience. It takes a true believer to watch the events unfold, then be handed a whopper of an M. Night-ism and be able to accept it, and - as if I didn't know it beforehand - it's clear to me that I have failed their test.

Fletch's Film Rating:
Shaky Cam Rating (details):LAMBScore:
Large Association of Movie BlogsLarge Association of Movie Blogs

P.S. - One more comparison: this is The Road + Waterworld. Take that for whatever it might mean to you.

P.P.S. - If you'd like to get an idea of the atmosphere that the Hughes' set for you in this post-apocalyptic world, I've done that for you as well (click for larger view):

9 people have chosen wisely: on "Fletch's Film Review: The Book of Eli"

Big Mike Mendez said...

My problem too was that they almost made him out to be a divine figure and that completely went against what the central message was in the movie, that faith can be something good and have meaning to a life. But bullets miss him? Neo didn't have a main theological belief system.

Fletch said...

No, but since you mention it, I do recall the last shot of Neo being a perfect Christ pose. Just sayin'.

Otherwise, yeah - it's easy to believe when belief = superpowers. I've heard some call this a superhero flick, thereby excusing all of the ridiculousness shown therein. Obviously, I think that's a cop out. Regardless of whether or not it looks or feels like a grpahic novel, it ain't, and 90% of it is not presented as such, so why should I forgive so much on the notion that doing so is the only way that the rest of it becomes believable. If the Hughes had wanted this to be a superhero flick, they should have made that fact much more clear.

Big Mike Mendez said...

True, and although he did sacrifice himself for the good of mankind, I don't think he saw himself as a Christ-like figure, which of course, makes him more of a savior. :)

There's an element of the paranormal, supernatural, guardian angels, what have you, but it gets pulled out from underneath you by time Oldman takes the book back that I just felt like, what the hell is going on with this movie?

Nick said...

I loved the twist ending, and it totally made me wanna see the whole thing over again. But I guess I dig that kinda thing.

Also... I can see The Road, but how is it Waterworld?

Finally, The Book of Eli *was* made as a graphic novel, which is why this movie was so big at Comic-Con.

Franco Macabro said...

Im always curious to see movies that deal with religious themes, just to see what the film is trying to say. I find religion a fascinating phenomenon, but one that has so many dark sides to it. I like films that explore these different sides of religion, for example I loved THE MIST.

I LOVE films that try and make audiences think about religion in ways they would normally never consider.

I wonder what kind of religion themed film Book of Eli is going to be, dont know much about it, but it seems like the film is aiming to strengthen peoples faith, in which case...barf. I guess Ill have to wait and see.

Nice review!

Richard Bellamy said...

Fletch - I acknowledge that the surprise is a big stretch - but I enjoyed this movie: the Western atmosphere and setting and Denzel's presence in the film. It worked for me. It's not a great movie. But it was enjoyable; also liked the sort of Fahrenheit 451 resolution regarding the book.

Film-Book dot Com said...

I must take issue with a few points in your review.

"I'm more inclined to believe in the preposterous ending to the universally panned thriller Orphan than I am to Eli's mind-bender."

"Universally" implies everyone in the universe or almost all. This is not the case. I, for one, thought Orphan was great:


Here is what Roger Ebert thought on Orphan:

Concerning The Book of Eli, I was disappointed and the big reveal at the end made no sense. You clearly see Eli looking people in the eye when he is talking to them or being talked to earlier in the film.

Its too bad they didn't do more with the faith angle or Eli's "mission".

Oh well, there is always Waterworld and The Deacon. I'm kidding of course.

Fletch said...

Film-Book - RE Orphan, you are 100% correct. I hate blanket statement and try to avoid them. I should have said "near-universally panned."

Amen on the Eli ending.

Conno - I wouldn't put it too high on the Barf Scale. If anything, it's even-handed, not only in placing the blame on religion for the circumstances that the characters are in, but it also doesn't particularly favor one faith over another, it's told through the prism of Christianity merely because that's the clubhouse leader in North America and most relatable to the audience.

Hokahey - There were certainly aspects of Eli that I liked...they were just outweighed by the myriad of little things and the one BIG thing that I couldn't get past. Not a terrible movie, but if anything, one that bugs me because I think it should've/could've been so much better.

This ending up being the feature topic of LAMBcast #12...coming soon.

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