Dystopian futures have been the playground of numerous filmmakers.
With The Book of Eli, the Hughes brothers (From Hell) bring their vision. One thing we know about it is that much of the color will be soaked out of the landscape — except, of course, for some bright-red splotches of blood.
Denzel Washington plays the title character. Eli wanders, his only companions an iPod — listening to a soulful version of How Can You Mend a Broken Heart by Al Green — and his wits and quickness. Not looking for trouble, he can smell it out, and he's a deadly swordsman. Looking like a veteran of whatever war or catastrophe that led the world to cannibalism and fighting over tiny sample bottles of shampoo, Eli seems to have a purpose, but it's hard to discern for much of the film.
Trouble comes from Carnegie (Gary Oldman), the leader of a decaying town. Carnegie's kept woman, blind Claudia (Jennifer Beals), bends to his whims to protect her daughter, Solara (Mila Kunis), who, too, will become trouble for Eli.
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The Book of Eli is an uneasy mixture of violence, religious overtures and funk.
Much of it is eerie and portentous, but every once in a while it is punctuated with something offbeat, including a character putting a disco record on before a gun battle. Washington gives Eli the necessary gravitas, and when hasn't Oldman been a terrific villain?
The Book of Eli doesn't necessarily distinguish itself from other bleak future worlds, but it has striking visual moments with the help of cinematographer Don Burgess and a New Mexico sky that feels as if it's on top of you. The film is like a post-apocalyptic Sergio Leone Western, with Eli as the man with no name. And like Clint Eastwood's character, Washington's needs few words to get his point across, which might be the best thing about the film.
The Book of Eli retails for $28.98 or $35.98 on Blu-ray.