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Tag Archives: Denzel Washington
“Directed by the Hughes brothers (“From Hell,” “Dead Presidents“), “The Book of Eli” starts strong and strange with a man hunting in the ash-blasted barrens of a ruined world. That strength and strangeness continue for a while, with the Hughes’ style alone powerful enough to squeeze a few drops of juice from the postapocalyptic pop-culture pulp we’ve seen in films from “The Road Warrior” to “The Road.”
“The Book of Eli” at first resembles nothing less than a Sergio Leone film: Every shot feels like it’s filmed from a distance of two inches or two miles, with nothing in-between. Dusty drifter Eli (Denzel Washington) is traveling out of the wasteland with moral might, a secret piece of precious cargo and a swift-flashing knife. That Western feel stays strong through a number of scenes: an ambush, arriving in town, meeting the corrupt ruler of a community that is only slightly better than nothing.
But “The Book of Eli” loses its way not long after its big reveal, which the film’s stars and advertising have already given away, so I feel no compunction in talking about it. The title volume is a Bible. Eli needs to take it west, while the ruler of the shabby, scary town Eli stumbles into, Gary Oldman‘s Carnegie, has been looking for one for a while. It seems all but one Bible were destroyed in the wake of the war, and Carnegie wants to use the good book for bad purposes, to help motivate and rationalize his grander plans. “It’s not a book,” he roars to his subordinates, including the craggy, cagey Refridge (Ray Stevenson). “It’s a weapon!” (Sci-fi fans will spot plots and themes from “A Canticle for Leibowitz” and “Fahrenheit 451″ between the lines of “The Book of Eli,” and they won’t be wrong to see them.)”
“The cast (of “Book of Eli”) had plenty to say about the very Western feel of “The Book of Eli.” You could argue that many postapocalyptic films echo with the themes and topics of Westerns — what is “The Road Warrior” if not “Shane” writ very, very large? — and “The Book of Eli” does work on that level.
In fact, it’s to such a degree that Gary Oldman can (and, when I prompted him, did) dig into the plot on a granular level and list Western plot point after Western plot point: “When I first read the script I thought that it was a postapocalyptic Western. We don’t have horses, but we have these armored trucks. But the story, the premise, is very like an old-fashioned Western. You have [my character], he’s sort of like a mayor, or a dark sheriff; there’s a town that he’s kind of got under his control, and the drifter comes through and he wants something and I want something he’s got and he’s not prepared to give it to me, and I lock him in the jail and he escapes and I get a posse together and go off. It’s classic Western stuff.”
Denzel Washington explained that the first screenplay he read was even more explicit in the parallels: “The original script was very much like a Western; [screenwriter Gary Whitta] even used words like ‘saloon’ … ‘barn’ … it definitely was much more Western-meets …” Here, Washington summed up five decades of the Western appropriation of Eastern action cinema with one phrase: “Grasshopper. [Eli's] a guy with a samurai sword, he walks into the saloon … we took some of that away, because it already has that feel anyway.”
Mila Kunis, meanwhile, shrugged off any question of similarities of classic Westerns with a moment of self-effacement: “Look who you’re talking to … I watched [Westerns] because my dad made me. … [But] I love ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly‘; it’s my favorite film of all time.”
Meanwhile, co-star Kunis, who plays Oldman’s daughter and Washington’s ally, was less concerned with the presence of Western-film moments than with the absence of Western civilization. I asked her to name a few favorite postapocalyptic films, and Kunis, interestingly, came at the question with a true outsider’s perspective: “I’m not the biggest fan of postapocalyptic films; I can’t even begin to name a single one that I ever watched more than once … except for … what was that movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger? What was that? ‘The Terminator.’ That’s the only one I can say I’ve seen more than once. ”
Washington, asked the same question, responded with a firm grasp on great movies and, perhaps, a slippery grip on the nature of the subgenre: “Was ‘Blade Runner‘ postapocalyptic? It had a lotta rain. I like that; I remember that. And I don’t know what ‘Brazil’ was … I just remember a lot of ducts. What was that? What was ‘Brazil’?”
I did ask Kunis if filming “The Book of Eli” made her stock up on bottled water in the basement or otherwise raise her own apocalypse awareness level: “A little bit … but I was that person anyway, for Y2K. I was that person, from 1999 to 2000, who was, ‘We gotta stockpile water in this house, Mom!’ And she was like, ‘Child, you crazy!’”
Really? I asked Kunis: Your mom talks like one of the waitresses from “Alice”? “‘Alice’! That’s your reference? I love ‘Alice’! I wish my mom spoke like that. In my head she does; really, she has a thick Russian accent.”
And, closing out the crazy-talk, I also asked Kunis if the ending of the film left a thread by which her character could be the basis of a second volume of “The Book of Eli.” Kunis batted sequel talk aside with a wave of her hand: “No, no, no. There is no second installment of this. Come on. You can’t make ‘The Book of Eli 2.’ It would be a very silly movie.”
“The Book of Eli” opens this weekend; all things considered, look for “The Book of Eli 2: Read Harder” in 2013.”