Roaming the scorched earth in ‘Eli
Once, just once, I’d like to see a post-apocalyptic movie that doesn’t assume that humanity would revert to its worst behavior, but instead would survive with its best attributes leading the way back to civilization. Perhaps that is asking for too much. Once the bombs have been dropped and savaged the land, it is asking a lot for the desperate survivors to band together in the spirit of good will for all rather than me first.
Denzel Washington stars in The Book of Eli, a post-a drama directed by Albert and Allen Hughes (From Hell, Menace II Society) that brings the religious allegory to the forefront rather than its usual place lurking in the background. Washington plays the titled character, one of the rare survivors old enough to remember what the world was like before the devastation 30 years earlier. He has been walking the earth for the past three decades on a mission. Along the way highwaymen have tried to kill him and he has endured because despite his age, he has some serious kung fu and blade skills. These action scenes are about the only moments that pump up the volume in a movie that is exceedingly light on character development.
Gary Oldman shows up as a villain named Carnegie who runs a town and wants what Eli is trying to protect. You will figure out soon enough that the object of his desire is the Bible. He feels the Bible and its words will allow him to convert more people to his side, a premise that doesn’t get much traction in the weakly designed screenplay by Gary Whitta.
The film does have an intriguing twist ending that some might find makes it worthwhile sitting through the doom, gloom and bloodshed. I’m still on the fence about that since in my book that twist is also a bit of a cheat.
Washington, the only actor given a sufficient platform to create a performance, provides a solid one as a man who knows who he is and what he is fighting for. Beyond a funny cameo by Michael Gambon, he is truly alone in this ugly world, which makes it a “wait for the DVD” movie for everybody but Denzel devotees.
Lord of the ‘Bones’
Before he got back to his Hobbits, Peter Jackson directed The Lovely Bones, based on the book of the same name, about a murdered child (Saoirse Ronan) who is stranded in a world between heaven and earth, watching her grieving parents (Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz) and the man who raped and murdered her (Stanley Tucci). Ronan is wonderful in a film that is heartbreaking, yet filled with hope despite the tragic circumstances. Learning to live beyond grief is the heart of the story and the performances bring out that premise beautifully.
Nine Is No ‘8½’
I never saw the stage musical Nine, but despite some enjoyable musical numbers from the master, director Rob Marshall (Chicago), the screen version of Nine is not likely to extend the life of the not-quite-extinct musical genre. The biggest problem is finding any sympathy for the central character, the childish, womanizing director, played by Daniel Day-Lewis. The director in Federico Fellini’s autobiographical film masterpiece 8½ (1963), the basis for Nine, was more likable. It really does come down to the difference between the lightness of Marcello Mastroianni and the darkness of Day-Lewis. The ladies that surround him are charming and entertaining, in particular Penélope Cruz as his mistress, Marion Cotillard as his unhappy wife and Judi Dench as his costume designer and confidant. The musical numbers are delightful but what surrounds them drains the energy provided by those musical moments.
The Book of Eli **
Directed by Allen & Albert Hughes; rated R
The Lovely Bones **1/2
Directed by Peter Jackson; rated PG-13
Directed by Rob Marshall; rated PG-13