Rated R for some brutal violence and language, 118 minutes
Vigorous, violent and highly entertaining "The Book of Eli"
The futuristic thriller "The Book of Eli" is one of Denzel Washington's best films in years, not to mention one of the new year's better films. Energetic, graphically violent but tremendously enjoyable, the dark apoclyptic film also carries with it an unusual spiritual tone that some might find surprising for a big Hollywood film. "Eli" is a flawed film but most of it works well enough that it'll likely be another hit for the prolific Oscar-winning actor.
Set in a stark post-apocalyptic 2043, a lone man named Eli (Washington) is traveling to the Western U.S. with a prized possession - what he believes is the last known Bible. Eli guards it with considerable care, and is a skilled, very capable fighter, guarding it with his life. He happens upon a small, desolate town in the desert looking for water, whose leader is Carnegie (Gary Oldman), a very literate, intelligent man desperately looking for the Bible that Eli has. They both believe the book holds valuable information that could redeem a dark society and relieve them of their pain.
Washington is perfectly cast as the badass with the Good Book, and his subtle, minimalist turn is one of his better performances of late, though the real highlight of "The Book of Eli" is the remarkable fighting skills that he posseses. The Hughes Brothers ("From Hell"), helm the fight scenes with precision, and film some of them under shadows that give you a perfect outline of what's happening. The first crowd-pleasing fight scene, just minutes into the film, is breathlessly handled that you'll be in clear awe of Washington's fighting skills.
These spirited fight scenes (and yes, just know they are extremely violent), along with Washington's nuanced performance and some nice, stark visuals (watch for the Golden Gate Bridge near the end), make "The Book of Eli" one of the new year's most enjoyable flicks. The story becomes too cliched and problematic when Washington becomes paired with Mila Kunis (of "The 70's Show'), doing her tough-chick Milla Jovovich turn here as a pretty young illiterate who becomes Eli's sidekick, which dampens an otherwise involving story that at times requires you to pay attention to the details.
The last act of "The Book of Eli" becomes too simplistic and heavy-handed, but then Washington is perfectly cast along side the truly nasty Oldman, who can play these parts in his sleep. It's also nice seeing Jennifer Beals ("Flashdance" anyone?) in a small but affecting turn as Oldman's blind lover. British character actors Michael Gambon and Frances de la Tour (both visible in some of the "Harry Potter" films) are memorable as a crusty couple named George and Martha, who have ulterior motives behind their kindness.
"The Book of Eli" is tremendously entertaining and until the end, free of any heavy-handed messages, though it's subtle spiritual undercurrent is one you don't find much in action movies such as this. The thoughtful ending is likely to stir some talk, and it won't be given away here, but I'll let you decide for yourself if what you think is really true or not.
Stirring, vigorously handled action scenes, a memorable Washington performance, and some stark visuals make for an enjoyable time at the movies. "The Book of Eli" is the year's first must-see film.