Tuesday, February 9, 2010

He Said, She Said Reel Dialogue: THE BOOK OF ELI

HE SAID: J McKiernan: Alright, here we are, K, writing about The Book of Eli.

SHE SAID: K McKiernan: On any given day, I have mixed thoughts on it.

JM: Before I say too much, describe your mixed feelings.

KM: Well, seeing it came after having just seen the violent Edge of Darkness, and for the sake of release date chronology we are waiting to review that one next, but the thing is, after a while I get really tired of all the testosterone. Don't get me wrong, Eli is interesting and action-packed. But after awhile, all the doom and gloom and bible thumping wore me out.

JM: Yes, we are saving our thoughts on Edge of Darkness for that review, and there is plenty to say. But for me, Eli was an intriguing and entertaining graphic novel of a movie, made all the more interesting by the fact that it is not based on a graphic novel -- it has been produced as an original cinematic graphic novel. Very interesting.

KM: For me, it did not seem all that new. I know, weird, right? It is really the same plot line we see all the time. People are really nasty to each other. Guy saves the day. Sure, the sepia-saturated locale and characters (Non-white guy lead and young woman with strength) were a bit off the typical path, but I felt like I have been on this journey before. Now, I was entertained enough at the time. The film keeps one's interest. It just doesn't leave me with substance after having seen it.

JM: The film is not perfection by any stretch of the imagination, but I admire the ingenuity of its form and the originality of its story. Yes, we have seen graphic novels adapted into films before -- one of the first, in fact, was From Hell, directed by Allen and Albert Hughes, the brothers who directed The Book of Eli. But we have yet to see an original film that deliberately goes after that tone and style in a strictly filmic context. And we have seen plenty of "Apocalypse Movies" over the past decade or more...but never one with such a unique hook as this film.

Continue reading after the jump...

KM: What was the unique hook? The secret of The Book? Ha. If I wanted a religious lesson, I would go to church. Look, I admire the hell out of the Hughes brothers. Their first film, Menace 2 Society, was brilliant and deftly handled. And, again, I will say, Eli definitely entertained me. I am just saying that aside from the pretty lack of colors, it did not look all that different to me than eons of other films where the guy has all the answers and is able to save the world. Yawn.

And I really did not go for the ham-fisted "surprise" we get near the end of the film. Since when do graphic novels so deliberately try to jerk tears? Why did they feel the need to add such a melodramatic twist? It felt so false... like an afterthought.

JM: Before we go any further, let's refresh on the plot: Denzel Washington plays Eli, traveling the stark, unforgiving terrain that is the remnants of America (when and how our land was decimated is only vaguely hinted at in the film) carrying the eponymous book. Eli is has been told -- apparently through Divine means -- to head west, where...well, we aren't quite sure what awaits our hero in the west, but on he goes. There is another man who wishes to possess the book, a man with the wonderful comic book name of Carnegie, played by Gary Oldman as a nasty scenery chewer...and he spends most of the film hunting Eli in a series of visually stunning action sequences. Does that about cover it?

KM: Yeah. It does. I really come across as if I hated it, and I didn't. I just thought it might be a little less of a morality tale and a bit more thought-provoking.

JM: It was thought-provoking. Any film that attempts to discuss religion of any kind -- especially, in this culture, Biblical Christianity -- and do so without pandering or proselytizing, deserves to be considered. And this ain't no Focus on the Family transparent garbage. That's not Kirk Cameron playing Eli.

KM: Ha! Sure, I give you that. Like I said, it was nice to see a non-white hero. Still, it was doling out more sermon that I felt like dealing with. Funny, this seems like a movie that Mel Gibson would have loved to have gotten his hands all over.

JM: Sure, it might've been attractive to Mel, but it would've been bastardized into an ultra-violent mess (speaking of, we will get to Mel's latest very soon). And yes, this film is violent. And yes, that violence is stylized. But it makes sense within its own framework. Eli is always reactive, and he is on a mission to survive. I do get the possible contradictions that could be culled from a movie about protecting a sacred text that is also a bloody action picture, but I feel like the Hughes Brothers -- brilliant visualists and challenging storytellers -- have deliberately crafted a cinematic graphic novel. I keep beating that dead horse, but it is a wonderful conceit that is previously unheard of...kind of like making a live-action anime picture, which we still haven’t seen.

KM: I think it is a cop-out for people to love the message and embrace the violence. You don't get to espouse religious doctrines as you slay every limb off of others. Now, I love a good blood bath, ala-Tarantino as much as the next guy or girl, but Tarantino never muddies the message. He doesn't ever heavy-hand you pious messages of religious salvation and then crucify all in his path.
I do agree with you, though, that Mel would have wrung all the art out of Eli, but still he would have loved the idea of get-your-message-out while beating the tar out of every evil fucker in your path.

JM: Your sentiments are not lost on me, but I don't particularly believe The Book of Eli to be a religious film. It discusses the power and pull of religion -- in both positive and negative contexts -- but doesn't preach.

KM: I do not think we are all that far off from one another. I would be surprised to find us more than a half grade away from one another. I think Eli has more depth under the Hughes brothers than other directors may have given it, but it still does preach a bit too much and as I said before, it just does not seem all that "new" to me. How about we grade this one?

JM: I'll go first. I am intrigued by Gary Whitta's screenplay (his debut as a screenwriter), I love that the Hughes Brothers came out of an 8-plus-year hibernation to direct another interesting film, I liked Denzel, I love the graphic novel conceit, and I liked the presence of Mila Kunis -- whom we failed to mention in this review -- who plays Eli's unexpected protégé who eventually takes on a much more complex role. Overall, I would tag The Book of Eli with a well-deserved B.

KM: I did mention earlier that it was nice to see a young woman with strength in an action film. Still relegated to a sidekick who learns much from her "father" figure, but I will still take female strength where I can get it. And like I thought, we are not that far removed from one another. B- on a kind day. C+ on a cynical day.

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