Quite appropriately for a movie about the apocalypse, it gets most interesting at the end. But to explain why would spoil it, and most of the time it’s already too close to spoiling itself. For starters: Yes, here is another goddamned movie about the apocalypse, and with a god-saved hero to boot.
The Denz of days: Denzel Washington outlasts the apocalypse with a Bible and badass weapon skills in The Book of Eli.
It’s hard to know what the average American moviegoer—Christian or otherwise—will make of an autodidactic Bible scholar who happens also to be handy with shotgun and machete. But it must matter that he’s played by Denzel Washington, reminding us again of his great gift for dignifying almost anything. Like many loner movie heroes before him, Washington’s saintly badass is laconic, deadly and blessed—sort of a post-rapture update of Clint Eastwood’s Pale Rider. Or, he’s an archly comic-booky version of Cormac McCarthy’s archly literary paladin in The Road, just one man traversing a ruined America on foot with the Lord’s mysterious ways on his mind.
Guided by the voice of the Almighty in his head, or at least by the voice of Al Green in his headphones (not a bad runner-up), Washington’s so-called “Walker,” also known as “Eli,” carries with him the last known copy of the King James Bible, which he reads every day. All he knows for sure is that he’s headed west, and that he must keep the book safe until he gets there. Eventually he meets an aspiring dictator who wants to take the Bible away from him. And in another nice touch of apocalyptic appropriateness, that person is played by Gary Oldman.
“It’s not just a f#$%in’ book!” Oldman says. “It’s a weapon!”
Cue the prophet-versus-false-prophet throwdown. Good thing screenwriter Gary Whitta and directors Allen and Albert Hughes aren’t at all daunted by the many extant precedents for their samurai-western schtick. Behold Mad Max as imagined by Sergio Leone with a goth-industrial update of the music from Blade Runner. A supporting role for Mila Kunis, way out of her element, seems only marginally more considered than the afterthought cameos by humanity’s other sacred texts. (Oh look, they do have the Koran. Hope the guy who walked that one across the hinterland had an easier trip.) When last the Hughes brothers brought out a movie, it was From Hell, but before branding them simonists and banishing them back there, we should consider the deficiency implied by that movie having been released almost a whole decade ago.
As for the end of this one, “most interesting” should not imply satisfying or commendable. How about enjoyably preposterous? It involves Malcolm McDowell, after all—and a transformation, of sorts, which, when all is said and done, just goes to show the difference between the big reveal and the Revelation.
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