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The Book of Eli
Denzel Washington's ass-kicking film.
The Book of Eli
Denzel Washington Stars in "The Book of Eli."
OPENING WEEKEND: $25,000,000
DOMESTIC TOTAL: $60,000,000
  This Film is NOT a Future Release.
  The Following Preview has been Archived.

November 16th, 2009: "The Book of Eli" revolves around a lone warrior (Washington) who must fight to bring society the knowledge that could be the key to its redemption. Oldman has been set to portray the despot of a small makeshift town who's determined to take possession of the book Eli's guarding.

What to Expect: Okay. Pop quiz, hotshot. You've got a story about a lone hero played by a financially and critically successful actor, struggling against enemies in a post-apocalyptic world. Do you go see it?

Well, that depends on whether your brain just went to the "Postman" place or the "I Am Legend" place.

Ironically, both of those films were adaptations of successful sci-fi novels. "The Book of Eli" is not, nor is it a remake, nor is it a comic-book or graphic novel adaptation. That alone makes it a bit of a standout these days, especially for the January post-holiday release slots. The successful actor in question is none other than Denzel Washington, with the dastardly nemesis being played by Gary Oldman, who's been doing a lot of good-guy stuff lately but come on, we love him as a baddie, don't we?

Article continues below

The movie itself, joked one blogger, looks like it might as well be titled "Denzel F*cks Up Everyone." The trend of Oscar-bait actors taking on ass-kicking roles isn't new. Viggo Mortenson did it in "A History of Violence" and Liam Neeson did it in "Taken." Denzel is no stranger to badassery, having done his fair share of action films and scenery-chewing, some of which earned him an Oscar. This isn't as much of a stretch for him as one might think. The stoic loner is a role he's comfortable with. I'm reminded of his role in "Man On Fire." This, though. This feels like another step. The role is almost Kung-Fu like. The publicity shots show him wielding a samurai sword. A SAMURAI SWORD, y'all. Sign me up, please.

The original story is by newcomer Gary Whitta, although that newcomer status won't be holding up for long. This is the guy that Warner Brothers got to write the two-film treatment for their "Akira" project, so that couldn't possibly be huger. Whitta's backstory is interesting; he's the former editor-in-chief of "PC Gamer" magazine. That might make for a very interesting perspective on this genre and film writing in general. The "Book of Eli" script got a rewrite from Anthony Peckham, who wrote Clint Eastwood's upcoming Nelson Mandela rugby pic "Invictus" and who also did the rewrite on "Sherlock Holmes" for Guy Ritchie, so cred all around for that. Alcon Entertainment (the good people who brought you such cinematic gems as "Dude, Where's My Car"...but also "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" and the upcoming Sandra Bullock Oscar grab "The Blind Side") is producing along with no less a hit-making personage than Joel Silver, with Sony distributing.

So what IS the story? Well, it boils down to a pretty brief bullet point. Denzel is Eli, a lone warrior wandering a post-apocalyptic landscape, guarding the titular book, a mysterious volume that somehow holds the key to rebuilding civilization and saving humanity. If it turns out to be a copy of "Dianetics" I'm going to be very unhappy. Anyhow, Denzel comes upon a small settlement rules by the iron fist of Carnegie, played by Gary Oldman, your typical post-apocalyptic despot, and he wants him some of that book, yo. Denzel proceeds to, as my blogger friend put it, f*ck everyone up. Mila Kunis (in a role that was originally supposed to be played by Kristin Stewart, but she was busy with that little vampire movie thing she's got going on) plays Solara, a young woman sent to betray Eli with her Mata Hari ways, presumably, but she ends up fighting with him.

Okay. Sounds like a pretty basic plot, which means there'll be lots of room for stylization and cinematic frippery. Good thing that the film is directed by Albert and Allen Hughes, in their first feature film since 2001's "From Hell." That film got a lot of crap from the Alan Moore devotee crowd, which I get (I have a first-edition of that graphic novel myself), but I really enjoyed that film for what it was, i.e. not really that strongly connected to Moore's work. It certainly looked great and evoked a very strong mood, despite the fact that Heather Graham is the worst actress in the history of ever. The Hughes brothers have spent the interim largely working separately in TV, but are reteaming for this film. They have nothing if not a strong visual aesthetic and a certain outlaw attitude. These are the men who made "Menace II Society" when they were twenty and got into fisticuffs with Tupac Shakur. I have no doubt that visually and stylistically, they can rock a post-apocalyptic film as much as anyone. Whether the film has the narrative to support the weight of their artistic visuals is another question. Another interesting aspect is the musical score, provided by longtime Trent Reznor collaborator Atticus Ross. The Hughes brothers like to push the envelope, which is something a story like this needs to avoid cliche. Unfortunately it's too easy for it to spill over into even more cliche.

I don't usually talk much about the trailers when I do these previews, but this one looks...awesome, I have to say. It has a "Mad Max" feeling without being derivative. The film I thought of the most was "The Road," the long-awaited Viggo Mortenson film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's acclaimed novel.

But this film is a different animal. My one concern is, what's the payoff? It can't possibly just be that Eli defeats the evil Carnegie. With this setup, the film can't just boil down into Good Guy vs. Bad Guy. There's going to have to be some kind of revelation about the contents of the book Eli guards. Speculation so far seems to center upon it being some kind of religious text, possibly the book of Genesis. I reiterate my disinclination toward any involvement of the work of L. Ron Hubbard. Somehow I think there'll be more to it than that. They could go the ironic route, and have it be like a user's manual to a Maytag dishwasher or something. My point is that audiences are going to want to know what exactly is in this MacGuffin of a book, and the answer to that question is going to have to be satisfying if the film's going to have resonance after your butt leaves the theater. That's what'll generate buzz. Well, that and just how much ass Denzel kicks in the film.

They've got quite a roster of supporting cast, too. Michael Gambon and Gary Oldman have a little mini Potter reunion; Gambon plays a man hewing to old traditions. Jennifer Beals appears as a blind concubine who's the mother of Solara. Ray Stephenson, much beloved for his role as Titus Pullo in "Rome," plays a mercenary sent to kill Eli. Also appearing is no less a genre god than Malcolm McDowell, and also Tom Waits. TOM WAITS.

Which brings me to another point. This isn't exactly about this movie but it provides an opportunity to talk about it. Consider the top three billed stars of this film. Denzel Washington. Gary Oldman. Mila Kunis. Um...one of these things is not like the other. And she's like thirty years younger than them. And we wonder what's happened to fantastic actresses like Rene Russo? Debra Winger? Geena Davis? Michelle Pfeiffer? They've been shuttled off to chick flicks or ousted altogether, replaced by twentysomethings in action/drama films that nevertheless can still star men in their fifties. Denzel is 54. Oldman is 51. Does anyone doubt that someone like Rene Russo could seriously rock an ass-kicking role like the one Kunis is filling? Yet here we are with some young thing in this film. She'll get a boost from its success, go on to bigger and better roles, and then it'll be her turn to get shunted off to Lifetime Land when she hits thirty.

I'm sorry, do I sound bitter? I'll have to watch that.

In Conclusion: I'm optimistic about this film. It looks stylish and exciting, and has some star power to back it up along with an interesting cast and writer, not to mention directors. The January release date ought to get it out of the way of December action powerhouses "Sherlock Holmes" and "Avatar." Everything will hang on the payoff delivered by the plot; stylish visuals and action can only get you so far.

Similar Titles: Taken, Menace II Society
January 15th, 2010 (wide)
June 15th, 2010 (DVD)

Warner Bros. Pictures

Allen Hughes, Albert Hughes

Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis, Ray Stevenson, Jennifer Beals, Evan Jones

Total: 65 vote(s).

Action & Adventure, Drama, Science Fiction

Click here to view site

Rated R for some brutal violence and language.

118 min





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