You know, it’s sort of odd at the beginning of a new year for me when I see movies. Often in January, I’m seeing holdovers from the previous year that are now making their way into St. Louis, so really I might not start seeing actual movies intended for the new year’s release until late in January or more often early in February, and as such, I’m often seeing some of the best movies that I’ll see during the last year at the start of a new year. This past year has been a little bit different, with the changes in the economy, home video and the rise of 3D, studios are more getting those prestige films out now all around in the same calendar year, so right now, the only holdover from 2009 that I’m still waiting to show up in St. Louis that would qualify for 2009 is Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans and I get to concentrate on new releases for the current calendar year.
Now I would’ve seen The Book of Eli regardless because this is a movie that I’ve really been looking forward to, but it’s just really rare that I see a movie released during the start of a calendar year, that might already qualify to be one of the best movies that I’ll see during that calendar year, and that’s the case with The Book of Eli– already I have seen something this year that will be up there with the most special movies of 2010.
Set in a post-apocalyptic future, The Book of Eli tells the story of a lone man, Eli, who’s had a calling and must follow that calling. Because of the great war that caused this apocalypse, nearly all of the Bibles have been destroyed as a result of that (as well as a good deal of other books). One bible remains and it’s in Eli’s possession, and his calling is to go West and from there decide what to do with the book. But Eli runs across others during his travels, and along the way he comes across a town that’s controlled by a man named Carnegie, and Carnegie is desperate to get a hold of a Bible because he knows what power the Bible has and what it can inspire amongst people who have no more hope.
This is the fifth movie from The Hughes Brothers and like James Cameron and Kathryn Bigelow before them, their first major release in a long period of time (their last film being their adaptation of Alan Moore’s and Eddie Campbell’s graphic novel, From Hell). And like Cameron and Bigelow, the time away certainly hasn’t hurt their chops at all and in fact, they’ve just gotten better if The Book of Eli is any indication, and for me anyway it is, as I think it’s their best movie yet.
First, it’s just a beautiful movie to watch. Yes, it is set against an all too bleak backdrop, but the composition of every shot is almost a work of art in itself. There’s heavy duty action elements in the film, and the Hughes Brothers buck the trend that a lot of others shooting action go for now, which is a lot of in-close stuff with quick cuts, and instead, they’ll pull their camera back and let you take in what they’re doing, which just makes the scenes even more impressive. One action scene in particular is just really fun to watch and it simulates a single camera shot that travels all around the action. Like Kathryn Bigelow with The Hurt Locker, they’re also not afraid to let a scene play out longer than what another movie might do, and thus add even more weight to what you’ve just seen.
In particular though, this movie deals with faith and they’re not afraid to take it as far as they do. There’s a particular point in the movie that really illustrates this (and I expect for some, this will be the turning point in the movie where they’ll either love it or hate it, depending on whether you want to go with them on it- I went with them on it). This same point is also like ones seen before in The Sixth Sense or Fight Club, the type of scene that makes you want to go back and re-watch the film to see where their “tells” are.
All of this wouldn’t mean anything though if you didn’t have a cast with the same conviction to carry it out, and fortunately, the Hughes Brothers have that with Denzel Washington and Gary Oldman as their leads. With Denzel Washington, you always get an actor who just gives the right amount of credibility to every part he plays, and Eli is no exception- his conviction is there, and I just wanted to follow him all the way through this. Oldman is the same way, once he’s been cast in a part, you know you’re in good hands, and while his Carnegie is the villain of this piece, it’s not just played single-mindedly and you do get the feeling that this is man who knows he’s done some pretty foul things to keep his life and his town going, even if it is starting to go further than what he might’ve planned. They’re backed up with some real nice turns from Mila Kunis, Ray Stevenson, Tom Waits, Michael Gambon and Jennifer Beals amongst others (really nice to see Beals doing something like this) and the entire cast makes sure that the Hughes Brothers vision follows through.
It’s a pretty profound story of faith told against a spaghetti western post-apocalyptic backdrop that’s masterfully made and certainly, at least to me, worth more than one viewing. It’s terrific to see the Hughes Brothers back in action and now I just hope it’s not another nine years before their next movie. Without a doubt in my mind, very much recommended, and already something that I’ll certainly be thinking about for the best that I’ve seen in 2010.