Ever since Dead Presidents, I’ve looked out for Hughes Brothers’ films. It’s a shame they haven’t done that many – they have a strong visual approach and a focus on what stories they want to tell. I enjoyed From Hell on its own merits – it’s a period cop-on-the-edge movie – even though (a) it’s not an actual adaptation of the superior graphic novel by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell and (b) Heather Graham is absolutely awful in it. Therefore, a post-apocalyptic movie starring Denzel Washington is a definite visit to the cinema.
The Book of Eli is essentially a Western – Washington is a nameless man (is it Eli? It’s never confirmed) who is walking across a destroyed America. He has a book that he is trying to get to somewhere West, and fights off anyone who tries to take it. Things get sticky when he reaches a town run by Gary Oldman, who wants the book because he believes it will help him control the people and more towns.
The film looks great – it has a bleached, washed-out feel of a sun-ravaged desert country, and the Hughes Brothers film Washington to make him as cool as possible, making him look the unkillable cowboy loner, with some good camera work and well-choreographed fight scenes. Washington is great and Oldman is good (and there are quirky cameos from Michael Gambon and Frances De La Tour, to up the ‘Harry Potter Factor’ to three), and it was nice to see the Jennifer Beals on the big screen – still looking luminous (and back on screen with Washington after the excellent Devil In A Blue Dress) – even if it’s only a small role. Mila Kunis is fairly bland in her role, and she looks very silly at the end when she dons Washington’s stuff to go back out into the wilderness – she looked like those dorky idiots who wore long black coats and black boots after seeing The Matrix, thinking it made them look cool like their hero without realising they looked like a prat copying something out of a film.
The only troubles I had with the film were near the end: although I partially guessed the reveal about the book (which did make me smile), the second reveal annoyed me, even if there were clues scattered throughout the film – it made the preceding events more implausible, and I think it would have been more impressive if Washington’s character had learned what he needed to complete his task after the event. But there was also the annoyance of ‘the bad guy doesn’t kill the hero properly for no other reason than he’s the hero’ – Oldman has Washington at his mercy, after all the trouble he has caused and all the people he has killed, and shoots him once in the stomach and leaves him to die. I hated that – it takes you out of the reality of the movie; after making your bad guy fit the part, you don’t get to stop him being the bad guy and thus allow the hero to live and complete his mission just by walking away and not being bothered to kill him completely by shooting him several times in the head. It’s stupid and insulting to the audience – I can believe it if he escaped through skill or luck, but not because the bad guy is lazy or an idiot.