New this week in theatres, Denzel Washington stars in the post-apocalyptic drama, The Book of Eli. Also opening this weekend, Peter Jackson directs the family drama, The Lovely Bones, and Jackie Chan stars in The Spy Next Door.
The Book of Eli
Starring: Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis
Director: Hughes brothers
If Hollywood is to be believed, the not-too-distant future is going to be one sorry place to live. Time and again, filmmakers have shown us society’s collapse, and a number of possible, mostly depressing, futures. And while the idea of a post-apocalyptic tomorrow has been worked almost to death over the years, the Hughes brothers have taken a stab at showing us one more time just how desolate and awful our world could become.
Denzel Washington stars as Eli, a wandering man, trekking across the barren landscape of what I can only imagine is middle America, a place devoid of life, and filled with the refuse of our long-dead society. Carrying one precious possession – potentially the last surviving Bible – Eli is what you might call a problem solver, whether he’s hunting for food, or dealing with a gang of hijackers waiting by the side of the road.
Wandering into the devastated ruins of a town, Eli quickly runs afoul of the local thugs and their boss, Carnegie, played by Gary Oldman. Thinking the tough and smart Eli might be a good addition to his band of common thugs, Carnegie throws Eli into a room for the night without realizing the man has something he wants – namely, the Bible – a tool that Carnegie wants to use to draw people to his towns.
What follows is a cat and mouse game as Eli escapes Carnegie and tries to continue his journey West. But along the way Eli gets bogged down babysitting Carnegie’s adopted daughter Solara, played by Mila Kunis, who can’t take her step-father’s horrible nature any longer.
Considering the film’s fantastic opening action scenes, intriguing religious undertones, and impressive cinematography, I was very hopeful about The Book of Eli. Early into the film I was even enjoying myself, but well before the half-way mark it’s clear that the script is little more than a thinly written tale wrapped around a MacGuffin – a plot device that drives the story, but doesn’t actually do much of anything.
Verging on being preachy at times, the Hughes brothers have made an interesting mix of violence and religion, one that some might consider a little revolting, to be honest. However, it does make for a strong statement on belief and religion. That said, all of those elements feel thrown together, rather than carefully thought out. Given a stronger script, this tone and story might have been a whole lot more interesting.
When the film is going well, the Hughes brothers make great use of the cast at the very least, often thanks to the chemistry between the stars. Washington and Oldman are very good, although it’s almost a shame that they don’t share more time on screen. But, there are still just too many pieces that don’t fit together, and part of the ending is literally laugh-out-loud ridiculous.
While I loved the picture that the Hughes brothers have painted of this distant tomorrow, I left the film feeling utterly unsatisfied, and maybe even a little cheated. I’d recommend the film to genre fans, but only with the clear warning that you will ultimately walk away from The Book of Eli wondering why such a long trip ends with such a meagre reward.
Also opening this weekend…
The Lovely Bones
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci
Director: Peter Jackson
Adapted from Alice Sebold’s well-known novel, The Lovely Bones is Oscar-winning director Peter Jackson’s latest film, starring Saoirse Ronan as the young Susie Salmon.
Killed before her time, Susie now looks in on her family from heaven, trying to help her parents, played by Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz, solve her murder.
While the book has been loved and praised, the film has been getting less than amazing reviews, thanks in part to Jackson’s apparently heavy hand with visual effects, which have rendered some scenes rather gaudily.
Worse though, some critics had a problem with the very core of the story. As Roger Ebert wrote for the Chicago Sun-Times, “The Lovely Bones is a deplorable film with this message: If you’re a 14-year-old girl who has been brutally raped and murdered by a serial killer, you have a lot to look forward to.”
Meanwhile, Ebert’s former television pal Richard Roeper wrote for his website, RichardRoeper.com, that he, “Loved the book… [and] admired the bold effort by Peter Jackson, even if the otherworldly scenes sometimes miss the mark.”
The Spy Next Door
Starring: Jackie Chan, George Lopez, Billy Ray Cyrus, Amber Valletta
Director: Brian Levant
Jackie Chan stars The Spy Next Door, a kid-friendly action film about, well, a spy who lives in the same neighbourhood as a group of kids who have been targeted by a group of spies looking for a stolen code.
By all accounts, the film is a disaster, earning a rating of 9% fresh on RottenTomatoes.com. That means that 91% of all reviews gave the film poor marks, and suggests you can probably skip taking your kids out to see the film in theatres.