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'The Book of Eli' lacks Washington's usual luster and proves disappointing

Jan. 20, 2010

McClatchy News
Denzel Washington stars as Eli in Alcon Entertainment's action-adventure film, "The Book of Eli," a Warner Bros. Pictures' release.

By Ash Anderson

I have always been a fan of Denzel Washington. The guy just has a gravity that is inescapable. Whether he's playing a Union soldier, a political activist or a rogue cop, the energy that he is able to capture is profound.

Unfortunately, Denzel is unable to carry "The Book of Eli" to the finish line, despite the visceral post-apocalyptic imagery and metaphysical fight sequences.

The premise sounds great on paper. Eli (Washington), on a cross-country trek to find water in a world that has been left in shambles, happens across a small town led by the charismatic Carnegie (Gary Oldman).

Obsessed with the Bible, and having never read it himself, Carnegie is taken aback to learn that Eli possesses one of the last remaining copies.

Obviously enough, Eli doesn't just hand the Bible over. If he did, there wouldn't be a story, and we would have been able to walk out of the theater in half an hour.

Actually, I might have enjoyed that more.In a vain attempt to get his hands on the book to give up the book, Carnegie sends his wife's daughter, Solara (Mila Kunis), to seduce Eli.

Though, being the wise man that he is, Eli refuses her advances and instead asks her to look inward at the turmoil that Carnegie is willingly spreading. As Solara and Eli flee, Carnegie pursues them.The third act picks up the pace to an enjoyable level, but if you haven't been interested to begin with, then there really isn't much the last 20 minutes will do for you.

There are plenty of interesting plot points in the story, but the director just seemed to skip over them in favor of more action-oriented visuals.

Cliches aside, the choreography is superb. Shifts in vantage points, perspective changes, and cuts are all very well done to the point that the action keeps you entertained. From what I've read, Denzel did all of his own stunts and martial arts, which leaves me even more impressed considering that he's getting up there in terms of age.

There's not much more that I can say without spoiling the ending - which is interesting, to say the least. The supporting cast helps to buoy the film above water just enough to keep it from drowning in its own convoluted plot, but they can't save it from simply being mediocre.

While not a bad film, I can't help but wonder what this could have been with another rewrite or two. Denzel doesn't normally pick poor scripts, but it appears that he finally hit a pot hole.

Grade: C