Back in 2001, comic writer Garth Ennis wrote an interesting mini-series called Just a Pilgrim. In it, the earth is a wasteland after an event called The Burn, where the sun expanded and literally scorched the earth. An unspecified time later came The Pilgrim, a mysterious man walking across the great plains of the Atlantic ocean, driven by his faith, and pursuing a personal holy mission. Along the way, he comes across a wagon train besieged by pirates, and joins on as their protector. The story was one-part comedy, two-parts western and post-apocalyptic adventure, and finally-a disturbing look at the power of faith.
I couldn't help but be reminded by this as I sat down in the theater to watch The Book of Eli, the latest film from the Hughes Brothers and starring Denzel Washington as the titular Eli, a man of immense faith walking across the post-apocalyptic American wasteland 30 years after a world-war followed by a massive solar event killed off most of humanity, leaving the survivors scrambling for leftover scraps. In the 30 years since the solar event, civilization has regressed into a perfect post-apocalyptic version of Hollywood western society, with the horses replaced by motorcycles, and the good sippin' whiskey replaced by pure water.
In this world filled with bandits, cannibals, and general hopelessness, Eli walks-following in the footsteps of Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name and Alan Ladd's Shane. Filling out the western conventions are Gary Oldman as the "Robber Baron", returning to the deliciously tasty side of Evil after playing heroic sidekicks the last few years, Jennifer Beals as the "Kept Madam", and Mila Kunis as the "Wide-eyed Innocent". It's to Kunis' credit that she hold her own in the face of Washington and Oldman-it's almost enough to forget that she's Jackie from That 70's Show.
In classic form, Eli only wants to travel in peace and live by The Word, but keeps getting harassed, leaving him no choice but to rather reluctantly kick the living sin out of everybody in the room. By reluctantly, I mean of course with "great speed and flourish", with limbs flying akimbo after meeting with his machete. Eventually people stop trying to stab Eli, and go the way of the Gun-where he proves to be the kind of marksman that can make guns have 2 times their effective range and stopping power. Eastwood would be proud.
Between these wicked fun bits of violence, there's well-acted scenes where people discuss some incredibly silly things with utmost gravitas and emotion. The movie has the story it wants to tell, and by God it's going to tell it. If you haven't seen the trailers. Eli's got a book to deliver, Oldman wants the book for himself, wackiness ensues until the big twist at the end, and the credits roll. High concept nonsense, but done with such panache you won't mind at all. The movie is beautifully shot, great score, and as stated already-solid performances, even if Oldman's Carnegie is not nearly as menacing or fun as Norman "Stan" Stansfield, or The Count
This is not a Cavalcade movie. It's too well executed and takes itself far too seriously for a proper bit o' the mockery. It's definitely worth a look however, and I'd fully recommend a double feature with Eastwood's seminal Pale Rider.