'The Book of Eli': A not-so-new parable of burnt-out beauty

REVIEW - Albert and Allen Hughes return with another stylized, moody tale -- this time depicting a post-apocalyptic future featuring Denzel Washington as neo-prophet Eli...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

After a more than eight year break from their last big screen feature From Hell, directors Albert and Allen Hughes return with another stylized, moody tale—this time depicting a post-apocalyptic future featuring Denzel Washington as neo-prophet Eli.

For this go-round, the people left on the planet are the survivors of a great war that’s left much of the Earth a wasteland. The muted browns and grays of the landscape and characters form a visual tableaux with the insinuation that Armageddon and its accompanying great “flash” burned color from the Earth.

Eli, a gruff yet nonetheless sensitive loner with a mean sword and pair of shades is compelled to walk west, following a mysterious path that he’s been walking for many years. The seemingly supernaturally skilled fighter eventually lands in a town run by Carnegie (Gary Oldman), a despot who sends out bands of illiterate marauders to search for an all-important book, the last of its kind, that will give him mastery over many through the power of its words.

The book in question is, of course, in Eli’s hands, and mayhem ensues once our villain realizes this. In order to entice Eli to stay in the town, Carnegie sends his stepdaughter Solara (Mila Kunis) to seduce our hero. Eli instead introduces her to the power of prayer, and the two soon become sought after fugitives from the town, tome in tow.

It’s a no-brainer as to exactly which world-famous good book is being desperately sought out, and the film is more of a standard parable about traditional faith and the misuse of religion as opposed to being a complex, inventive narrative. Though there are many well-placed clues in the film that hint at a major surprise twist towards the end, there are also holes and turns in the plot that will leave some scratching their head, including a completely unexplained break from confinement by Solara.

The conflict between transcendence and (expected blockbuster) violence is palpable. The story’s conclusion is more invested in exploring spirituality and legacy than having a big climactic bang, but much of the momentum of the script overall comes from the jolt of big explosions, bullet play, and severed appendages.

Nonetheless, black directors in Hollywood are few and far between, and the Hughes Brothers’ take on religion and apocalypse at least deserves community support from those so inclined to give it. (One of the brothers, Albert, is an atheist, giving an interesting back story to a project that will be seen by many as having a moral agenda.) This presentation of the near end of the world will leave many in an altered state, feeling more connected to the present and somewhat hypnotized by bleak, burnt-out beauty.