In the not-too-distant future, some 30 years after the final war, a solitary man walks across the wasteland that was once America. Empty cities, broken highways, seared earth—all around him, the marks of catastrophic destruction. There is no civilization here, no law. The roads belong to gangs that would murder a man for his shoes, an ounce of water... or for nothing at all.
But they're no match for this traveler.
A warrior not by choice but necessity, Eli (Denzel Washington) seeks only peace but, if challenged, will cut his attackers down before they realize their fatal mistake. It's not his life he guards so fiercely but his hope for the future; a hope he has carried and protected for 30 years and is determined to realize. Driven by this commitment and guided by his belief in something greater than himself, Eli does what he must to survive—and continue.
Only one other man in this ruined world understands the power Eli holds, and is determined to make it his own: Carnegie (Gary Oldman), the self-appointed despot of a makeshift town of thieves and gunmen. Meanwhile, Carnegie's adopted daughter Solara (Mila Kunis) is fascinated by Eli for another reason: the glimpse he offers of what may exist beyond her stepfather's domain.
But neither will find it easy to deter him. Nothing—and no one—can stand in his way. Eli must keep moving to fulfill his destiny and bring help to a ravaged humanity.
After an eight-year hiatus, the Hughes brothers return with what could be described as a stylized morality play. With cinematography by Don Burgess ('Spider-Man,' 'Cast Away') depicting a barren and devastated wasteland decades after a nuclear holocaust, the post-apocalyptic tale of a lone traveler on a tireless pilgrimage is at once a familiar, even comfortable, portrayal of humanity's wretched future. But 'The Book of Eli' distinguishes itself with a purposeful plot that asks if the same instrument manipulated to bring about the destruction of life could also resurrect it from its dismal and dystopian ashes. Even if the script does not fully succeed in exploring this aspect of the narrative, the film works as an entertaining feature with a seamless blend of science fiction, western, and graphic novel indebtedness.
In all honesty, I find myself somewhat surprised that I enjoyed the film as much as I did. Already knowing the basic premise of 'Eli,' which leads one to easily figure out what book the protagonist (Denzel Washington) is sworn to protect, I half expected something that would attain the level of a preachy spiritual message by film's end. Thankfully, the script by Gary Whitta, who is also rumored to be working on a live-action version of 'Akira,' doesn’t seem too greatly concerned about issues of doctrine and is careful not to rub viewers the wrong way. The film remains focused on the plot's most interesting aspect - following the journey of a determined stranger who seeks to deliver what is arguably the most influential book ever written to a safe location in a post-war wilderness.
Unfortunately, just before he makes it to his destination, he arrives at a small town that looks like a disheartening memory of suburbia. There, he is confronted by its leader, Carnegie (Gary Oldman), a man equally determined to possess the book, which, as it turns out, is the last of its kind. It's at this point where the narrative seems willing to explore some theological discussions on the immense importance of this particular object and the commanding significance it has on people. Even in a couple of conversations with the man’s would-be disciple, Solara (Mila Kunis), we get hints and nudges of what could be insightful and astute observations of the book’s power to shape the world. But it's not meant to be. Instead, much like the film’s hero, 'The Book of Eli' is more determined to provide audiences with cool, visually-stimulating action.
Ultimately - and this is my biggest qualm with the narrative – the film misses many opportunities to probe deeper into the established subject matter. While the quarrel between the man, whose name we don’t come to find out until the last few moments, and Carnegie function nicely to move the story forward, their altercation is also representative of two opposing forces fully aware of the book's incalculable weight. One sees hope and salvation, while the other is conscious of its potential to control. Again, this is all on the immediate surface, even though it can delve further. The movie's more tension-filled moments can be found in the exchanges between these two men, as some historical truth lies behind their idealistic confrontations. Yes, the action is exciting and enjoyable, but I really would have liked more time spent on them talking over each other's line of reasoning.
In spite of all this, ;The Book of Eli' is still an entertaining post-apocalyptic action flick with a surprising twist that makes excellent use of the phrase "living by faith alone." As long as you don’t put too much thought into it, the ending is quite satisfying as the subtle, pervading motif of the film, though a second viewing is required to see how it functions within the story. Although it doesn’t take full advantage of its recurring theological theme, this futuristic western makes for a stylish feature of a dystopian badlands and a strong return of the Hughes brothers.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Warner releases this Blu-ray edition of 'The Book of Eli' on a Region Free BD-50 disc. The package is housed in a blue two-disc keepcase, with the second disc carrying a standard definition copy of the movie and a cardboard slipcover encasing the whole thing. The show commences with a trailer for the upcoming film 'Lottery Ticket,' starring Bow Wow, Ice Cube, and Mike Epps, and a promo encouraging digital copies. Once over, viewers are greeted by a standard selection of options on the main menu.
'The Book of Eli' arrives on Blu-ray with a heavily desaturated picture presentation that really adds to the film's doom and gloom atmosphere. The color palette in this 1080p/VC-1 transfer (2.35:1) is greatly restricted to secondary hues with a steely blue tint, and contrast levels have been severely pumped to create the sense of an extreme climate. Blacks come off as equally strong and intense, but they’re accurate for the most part, with only a couple of interior scenes where they falter a tad. Due to this intentional photography, shadow details are often obscured by the murky backgrounds. The encode is also heavy on the grain, but never intrusively so, and the image shows very little depth, thanks to the blaring whites. One thing worth noting is some noticeable posterization, particularly at the beginning, and it occurs very faintly in a few more sequences later, only not as strong. Overall, the image is sharp and distinct, with strong details in the faces of actors, but again, the stylized photography does tend to take away from some the finer aspects. In the end, this is a highly satisfying video presentation that fans will find very pleasing.
This dystopian western set in a decadent future also comes with an enjoyable DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack that doesn’t impress much until one noteworthy action sequence at the end of the second act. When Eli and Solara hole up at the dilapidated farm house, the sudden eruption of gunfire brings the entire sound system alive with random objects flying everywhere. As the camera moves around in large circles, weaving in and out of the house, discrete effects follow with remarkable accuracy as they pan seamlessly between channels, creating an exhilarating and immersive soundfield. The low-end is equally powerful and punchy to give each gunshot and explosion a hearty, room-shaking feel. The rest of the sound design is a front-heavy mix, with extensive, room-penetrating dynamics, and although Oldman’s character is a soft-spoken individual, dialogue reproduction is strong and intelligible. Rear activity is practically devoid of atmospherics, which could be intentional, except for some minor instances that give certain scenes some light ambiance. Nonetheless, when the action takes over, 'The Book of Eli' sounds great on Blu-ray.
Warner Home Video enhances the newest Hughes brothers film with a decent collection of special features.
Coming from the talents of the Hughes brothers, 'The Book of Eli' follows a lone, determined man through a spiritual journey in a post-apocalyptic wasteland of aimless, desolate souls. Although the narrative doesn’t seem too concerned with a deeper theological discussion, the movie still works as an interesting actioner of a world just surviving decades after a nuclear holocaust, thanks mostly to the tension-filled performances of Denzel Washington and Gary Oldman. The Blu-ray edition of 'Eli' comes with an excellent audio/video presentation that nicely reflects the harsh climate conditions presented in the film. The supplements are not very extensive but they provide some good background info on the production. Overall, the movie is an entertaining feature, and fans will be happy with the entire package.