Gumby77’s review published on Letterboxd :
Returning for the first time after a seven year hiatus, after their last film of 2001's "FROM HELL" ... the Hughes Bros. return with a remarkable, exquisite, and overall powerful opus in "THE BOOK OF ELI". A film rich with outstanding cinematography ... two excellent performances from our two leading men ... and a finale that will blow your mind away, "THE BOOK OF ELI" takes the audience on an adventure through a futuristic apocalyptic world, that culminates with an intelligent and powerful ending that is bound to inspire not only debate and discussion, but deep soul-searching as well. "THE BOOK OF ELI" is an excellent piece of filmmaking, that needs to be checked out by everyone as soon as possible.
Set some thirty or forty years after a nuclear war has turned the Earth into nothing more than a vast wasteland ... a mysterious drifter/loner named Eli (Denzel Washington) travels "west" on foot, where he is on a mission to deliver the last known copy of the Bible. Along the way, he crosses through a run-downed town, headed by a man named Carnegie (Gary Oldman), who just so happens to be looking for the bible himself, but for his own purposes of rebuilding civilization into his own vision ... a civilization that has been without real religion or faith since the war. When the two men (and their beliefs) collide, and a young bartending maid named Solara (Mila Kunis) gets caught up in the middle, things get ugly fast as both men become more and more desperate in order to obtain the one thing they both need most.
The center of "THE BOOK OF ELI" is simple ... it's the struggle between Eli and Carnegie. They both have extremely strong reasons for wanting to possess the Bible, and they could not be more different. Both have extremely strong religious beliefs and different goals in wanting to possess the Bible ... Eli is on a spiritual mission to deliver the Bible to a place where it would be most needed, while Carnegie seems to crave power and control. The chemistry that the two have on screen together is absolutely excellent ... it's a "hero/villain" relationship executed to near perfection ... and credit goes to both our leads for their outstanding work here.
Denzel Washington plays "Eli" ... a swift, intelligent, calculating, inventive, and soft-spoken drifter who gets out of one scrape after another after another. This is one of the best "badass" roles that Denzel Washington has played in years, and he knocks his performance out of the ballpark. One memorable scene of the entire film happens about 15 minutes into the film, as you see Eli confronted by a group (about six or seven men) of cannibal hijackers. The way Eli manages to defend himself, and take down all hijackers will leave your jaw on the floor. This is just one of many scenes where you see this "badass"ery from Denzel.
His counterpart is "Carnegie", played by the great Gary Oldman. He does very little fighting, and instead uses his small army of rag-tag henchmen to do his bidding and dirty work for him. Gary Oldman puts on another fantastic performance, one where as the film continues on, his desperation becomes more and more apparent in wanting to possess the Bible. Certain scenes in the film (particular ones with Mila Kunis' "Solara" and her mother) shows the evilness and despicableness of Oldman's character. This is one of Gary Oldman's greatest "villain roles" in years ... perhaps going all the way back to his Russian terrorist of "Egor Korshunov" in 1997's "AIR FORCE ONE".
The two of them really dig down deep in their respective parts ... with Oldman probably doing the better work. His character is a festering ball of bottled-up (and sometimes, unleashed) rage as his desperation overtakes him. Denzel also goes deep but in a different way. Where Oldman protrudes his character, Denzel stays elusive while somehow being able to reek of a man of deep, unbending faith. The movie-long showdown between the two believers is just awesome to see ... as they grapple with their faiths in what is probably the last "holy war" on the planet ... both men have excellent and justifiable motives, and at times to tell you the truth, it is difficult to decide which one to side with.
The heart to the story is a young girl named "Solara", played by Mila Kunis ... a woman who is trapped under the control of Carnegie, along with her mother (played by Jennifer Beals). She carries her part very well and holds up nicely against the heavyweight sparring between Eli and Carnegie. Her chemistry with Denzel's "Eli" was very good ... at times, with her curiosity about the Bible getting the best of her. The smaller roles by Tom Waits, Malcom MacDowell, and the great Michael Gambon are also perfectly casted and well executed.
Production wise, the film is masterful ... cinematography is dark and exquisite, making the landscape of the film look beautiful and nightmarish all at the same time. The Hughes Bros. also use a distinct "color pallete" to really show the world in the dire straits it is in. With the blasted landscape, the story also shows one on what must be done in order to survive ... water and food are beyond scarce, with the biggest threat being cannibalism. The atmosphere is nearly gone, forcing everyone to wear sunglasses (a piece of symbolism, that "foreshadows" the ending) outside for fear of blindness from the blazing unfiltered sun ... every tragic element of the destroyed world is perfectly portrayed in this, and fits into the overall story like a puzzle piece. Add to that, being backed by a haunting score, and what you got is a great apocalyptic film.
The ending is an absolute total shocker, when you first see it. It's the equivalent of a nuclear bomb ... and the funny thing is, you can catch it if you watch this film EXTREMELY carefully. There is a ton of "cryptic symbolism" in this film that "foreshadows" this ending ... but even if you do see it coming, it will still blow your mind away. It's a smart, intelligent, and powerful ending that ties everything up neatly, righteously, and organically. It's an ending that will make you look back at the entire film, and think about what you just saw in a completely different way ... bound to inspire not only discussion, but soul-searching analysis among audiences. It will most certainly strike a deep chord inside one's self, and it will resonate deeply. You have to see it to believe it.
"THE BOOK OF ELI" is a fantastic, deep, motion picture that hits the right balances of "style and substance" and "action and drama" ... it will grasp your attention right from the get-go, and hold onto it until the final frame. It's a film that will keep you on the edge of your seat during it's entire duration, until the ending ... thats when it will knock you off your chair. "THE BOOK OF ELI" finds the Hughes Bros. injecting some fresh stylish fun into the kind of post-apocalyptic wasteland, that filmgoers have seen more than enough of lately, and they more than succeeded here. Sure, better post-apocalyptic films have been made, but "THE BOOK OF ELI" is not far behind. With two heavyweight actors putting on outstanding performances ... high production and technical values ... a deeply involving plot ... with an ending that changes EVERYTHING that you've seen come before it ... "THE BOOK OF ELI" is a great film worthy of multiple viewings ... a "game-changer" that will certainly have you debating and discussing, long after that credits roll ... and when a film does that, you know it had a impact on you in some way, shape, or form. To me, that makes it a success.