A stoic, shadowed and resourceful figure wanders the bleak, sun-worn digitized landscapes in the Hughes Brothers' clumsy, yet strangely spiritual and flashy apocalyptic sermon, The Book of Eli. Aside from carrying a wickedly sharp blade on his back and about thirty pounds more than a diet of stray cats would lead you to believe, this figure has a less than ordinary book in his possession. Everybody wants it, but nobody can lay their hands on it - at least not if our sacred nomad (a grizzly, soft-spoken Denzel Washington) has anything to say about it.
And so this hyper-stylized, ultra-reverent off-shoot of the ever-popular genre of post-civilized existence begins with a comic-book swagger and a coolness that occasionally matches the film's 21st century prophecies and mythicizing.
Roaming the desert like a celestial savior and harbinger of pain upon filthy sinners, the film is essentially a variation on John Hillcoat's The Road - albeit delivered in a far more literal sense, with the "fire" being a more distinct and saintly, virtuous quality, and the film being one bible verse away from a straight actioner.
As in any Sergio Leone or Clint Eastwood western, the characters here all wear the evidence of their travels and their filth, gawking and picking fights and grinning through their rotten teeth, usually in the direction of our seemingly misplaced bearer of purity (though never has the hero in question been this mysterious, this seemingly blessed.)
The skies, which traditionally stretch out like an endless body of water in classic dust-ups like Once Upon a Time in the West, here resemble an ever-moving stream of thick, eternal clouds, the sky now an immovable gray. The unidentified makeshift town which our shaded hero stumbles upon (run by a scarred, literate Gary Oldman) even resembles a classic western port with its straight and narrow main strip stacked with rows of congested buildings faced squarely towards one another.
It is here where our book-carrier is mistakenly sold-out by an overanxious and naive daughter to a blind servant (Mila Kunis) and now finds himself on the run from Carnegie (Oldman) and his droogs who want his most cherished possession. "It's not a book, it's a weapon!" Carnegie howls.
At times, you have to take pause over the sheer inanity of the whole thing - but if you ask me, it's the film's unwavering stoicism and self-confidence (not to mention the brilliant and heavenly tones in Atticus Ross' musical score) that keeps things together. It may be silly religious claptrap, but it's delivered with such potent assurance and brimming seriousness that I bought it - or at least bought the idea of it.
The Book of Eli can simply be disregarded as afore mentioned philosophical hokum, but there is an ethereal admiration and aplomb that hangs over the production and carries it through - no matter how narrowly - to its conclusion.