AWFJ Women On Film – The Book of Eli – Susan Granger reviews

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No one should ever underestimate the importance of timing, so being the third sci-fi end-of-the-world film in the past few months is a heavy cross this hybrid concept must bear. After “2012” and “The Road,” there’s not much new to say about the post-apocalypse, or is there?

For 30 years, a mysterious traveler, Eli (Denzel Washington), has wandered west through the charred wilderness that once was America, carrying the world’s only remaining Bible, a leather-bound King James version, in his knapsack. Dodging danger in the desolate cities with their fallen skyscrapers and crumbling cars on the ravaged highways, he’s adroit with a knife and a gun. But he’s also a pensive loner in designer sunglasses who tells himself, “It’s not your concern” when he’s not listening to his iPod.

Only this enigmatic, humorless true believer/road warrior and a few others remember what it was like before a cataclysmic war destroyed everything; now young people no longer know how to read. But cruel, avaricious Carnegie (Gary Oldman), the self-proclaimed dictator of a repopulated outpost, covets that Good Book for his own nefarious purposes. Then there’s Carnegie’s blind, abused mistress, Claudia (Jennifer Beals), and her rebellious daughter, Solara (miscast Mila Kunis from “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”). And, in a bizarre twist, Malcolm McDowell surfaces in the final few minutes.

Conceived as a pretentious Western by video-game creator Gary Whitta – with some rewrites by Anthony Peckham – directed by twins Albert and Allen Hughes (“From Hell,” “Dead Presidents,” “Menace II Society”) and photographed in sepia tones by Don Burgess, it delivers a grim, Christian message that’s filled with excessive, brutal violence. Reportedly, as a child, playing at his mother’s beauty salon, Denzel Washington was influenced by a patron, a neighborhood fortune-teller, who predicted he would speak to millions, in the way of a preacher, and that predisposed him not only to do this project but also to co-produce it.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Book of Eli” is drab, solemn 6, delivering bloodshed that’s punctuated by poetic psalms.

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association in the Film, Documentary and TV branches and a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).