January 21, 2010

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The Book of Eli (R)
Denzel Washington is all kinds of bad-ass in the post-apocalyptic action snackfood The Book of Eli.

Eli (Washington) is walking west through a gray and destruction-filled America. It is 30 years since the war, which apparently not only destroyed most vegetation but also turned the sky a January-ish muck color and, as in The Road, caused some people to turn to eating other people. (Though, frankly, the world in this movie still has enough plants and animals roaming around to make the cannibalism seem kind of preemptory, like some people are just waiting for any excuse to make Neighbor Casserole.) He is solitary but keeps on moving — hunting birds (see?) to feed himself, spending nights by his camp fire reading the sole book in his possession and trying not to cause or get involved in any trouble. But when trouble does find him — a band of thugs laying a trap for travelers so they can rob and kill him — he takes out a massive knife and makes trouble wish it had stayed home with its momma. Thusly does he dispatch not only the amateurish highway robbers but also a gang of thugs in a saloon in the vaguely-Deadwood-ish town run by Carnegie (Gary Oldman), a man who not only controls the water distribution in these here parts but also has your standard wild west enterprises like prostitution and hired violence. He likes Eli’s style and wants him to stay, even sending his stepdaughter Solara (Mila Kunis) in to “entertain” him. But Eli wants no part of Carnegie and says he’s leaving. As Eli leaves town, however, Carnegie finds out about Eli’s book. It’s a book, as it turns out, that Carnegie has been looking for for years. He believes it holds the key to getting more people to submit to the will of his autocratic towns. The book is a weapon that allows you to control people, he tells Redridge (Ray Stevenson — Titus Pullo of Rome, I’ve missed you), the man charged with tracking down Eli and retrieving the book.

But Eli’s not lending his very small library to anyone. He believes he’s been charged with getting the book to the right place, so he tells Solara, whose mother (Jennifer Beals) insisted that she follow Eli, which she hopes is safer than Carnegie’s little fiefdom.

Guess which book they’re talking about? And, no, it’s not The Secret or even Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover.

So sure, there’s some messagey stuff here which you can either take on its face or read some broader meaning into. And there’s plenty of good apocalyptic gloom to make you feel like you’re watching something a little more epic and important than just another kick-punch movie. But the brutal violence and general bad-assness are the real meat in this hot pastrami sub. Watching Washington fend off guys with a sword and some well-executed martial arts moves is fun — he’s fun when he gets a chance to be all restrained fury. And Gary Oldman, who seems to enjoy picking characters for their crazy factor, is a nice opponent for our Washington action figure, complete with high-kicking action. B-

Rated R for some brutal violence and language. Directed by Albert Hughes and Allen Hughes and written by Gary Whitta, The Book of Eli is an hour and 58 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Warner Bros.