Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Book of Eli

(and yes, there are spoilers ahead)

Short version- it was a well-made propaganda film for the Bible. Kinda felt like Ralphie after getting his decoder ring- "A crummy commercial? SonofaBITCH." I liked it though.

I enjoyed this dystopian view of the future & the vagueness of the event that created it. It's always a little more interesting when some details are left to the imagination. This was definitely an alternate reality though; one that could never be the result of the actual world we live in- no ipods and no kindles! What the hell kind of future could that possibly be? While the blindingly obvious lack of ipods was likely a branding/sponsor decision (with the lack of Kindles being a plot device- their existence would render the plot moot), it was interesting to see what companies had agreed to product placement: KFC, Busch, KMart (at this year's Comicon, I expect to see plenty of KMart nametags emblazoned with the name "Eli." The new 'nerd cred' status symbol, perhaps).

Like a majority of movies I see these days, I loved the concept, loved most of the execution, but was underwhelmed by the ending. I must say I saw the twist coming a mile away. Not sure if it's because I knew that a twist was coming; I'd like to think I would've guessed it anyway. Normally I never ever see a twist coming. I think The Others may be one of the few times I've called it. But I digress! I am a fan of digression, btw. So yeah, I thought about the blind thing when he was hunkered down in the abandoned house cooking that cat, and I watched the entire movie wondering if I was right, trying to find proof or disproof of that theory. I actually remember thinking of how he jumped in fright when he opened that closet and found the body hanging there. Struck me as kinda funny and authentic that a tough guy can still be startled. I retrospectively justified it in my mind that the smell is what made him jump, but his sense of smell was so strong, that didn't seem plausible. Couple other moments when they oversold the blind thing, especially when Mila Kinis remarked (needlessly) about how bright it was in his room, after we had just seen him viewing his bible by flashlight (which in hindsight made no sense and was a red herring just for the sake of being a red herring, which is storytelling bullshit). Also oversold- when one of the thugs said "It's like he's protected somehow." For fuck's sake, leave it to the audience to connect the dots, massive and unmistakable as you made those dots, about faith and man.

Other blindness "bloopers" (and to be fair, I am not a fan of picking a movie apart just for the sake of doing so. I just think that if you base the heart and soul of your story on an improbable Shyamalanian twist, you have to play fair and not go out of your way to unfairly dupe the audience): He looked everyone in the eye. I've known a few blind people, not to mention every other blind person in the movie, and that's not typical. His hearing and smell were WAY too refined. He was better at navigating his world sightlessly than Daredevil. And Daredevil has mutagenically enhanced senses AND radar! He could smell people yards away. And he could pinpoint shoot somebody just based on sound? Balderdash! Glaringly, how would he have found the first house he camped in? Let alone the house where the two well-armed old cannibals lived (sigh... Deus ex Machina. Shelter and the biggest cache of weapons this side of a Schwarzenegger movie) that he "saw" from maybe a half mile away! I'm willing to go with the fight scenes. I've always been a fan of the "blind swordsman" angle, and I can suspend my disbelief enough for that (I can also suspend disbelief that Mila Kunis can't read but can drive a car better than I can). And the opening scene, where he skewers that cat??? I don't care how good his hearing is, he was wearing a hood and mask and that cat was quiet as shit. Not to mention the logistical impossibility of him setting up that trap anyway. How did he manage to line up that shot in the first place? And how did he so easily grab the felled cat after shooting it? Those instances flew in the face of the subtle clues given later on- the way he would always touch the door before entering a room, the way he always first consulted the sun before heading West, and as I already mentioned the way he wouldn't shoot someone until they shot first thus giving up their position. Those were great, subtle clues about his lack of sight. It was cheap, bush league even, to intentionally mislead the audience in the other direction.

More anti-blindness hullabaloo: How did he know that the shop he entered was a shop at all, where he could barter? Love me some Tom Waits, by the by. Always pleasantly surprised when I find him in a movie. Also a fan of Oldman and Kunis. And the poster of A Boy and His Dog in the room where he stayed? Very nice touch. Yay digression! When he went to pick up his non-ipod MP3 player (like such a thing exists!) he spoke to the shopkeep as though he could see the cords plugged into his device. Even at the end, when they stopped on the Golden Gate bridge, let's just say he could tell where the side of the bridge was based on the wind. Or something. There is still no way he could know there were STEPS he would have to negotiate to get to the edge. And lastly, perhaps most annoyingly, how in fucking blazes can a blind man accurately paddle a rowboat towards an island? Backwards???

Inevitably, a die-hard fan of the movie might say faith allowed him to accomplish these things. But that explanation would render his blindness immaterial and undermine the twist.

All that aside, I did find it enjoyable. Mila Kunis has never looked hotter than when she strapped the Sword of Michael to her back and headed off for some sweet, sweet revenge. And the cinematography was top notch. From the washed out look of the film to the fucking beautiful tracking shots during the gunfight- moving from inside the house to back out, then in again. Out-fucking-standing. No doubt in my mind that those shots were digitally stitched together, but it was still a thing of bullet-driven beauty.

The blindness thing was just too contrived and altogether unnecessary. Would've been a cool story even if he could see. Maybe not quite as strong a statement about faith, but I argue it would still be a solid faith-based tale. I was thinking (hoping) that the Bible he finally handed over to Gary Oldman was either boobytrapped with a bomb (but they already did that once), blank pages (because he obviously already had it memorized), or written in either a different language or illegible shorthand. Those would've all been as good as, if not better. And when the Librarian (Malcolm McDowell!!!) asked "Can I see the Bible?" it was already obvious that it was memorized even before Denzel described himself as the book "Kinda beat up, but it'll do the job." Just after that scene I was thinking it'd be cool to see the other journeys that other zealots had made as they brought the Qur'an, etc to the library. Alas, those books were already there.

Before I saw the movie I had actually contrived my own twist in the week or so since I learned this flick had one. Imagine if the movie plays as is until Gary Oldman leaves him for dead, but before Mila Kunis jacks the truck. Now imagine it cuts to the reveal: Denzel is a patient at a mental hospital, no known family, no one knows anything about his history other than he's been a patient for 30 years and he is certifiably insane. He has a book (in real life) that he is obsessed with and defends. There have been instances where other patients or staff tried to check his book out and he attacked them, severely beating them. It's all been his fantasy world; Oldman is his shrink, and he is not an evil guy at all. He finally got the book from Eli- hence Eli imagining being shot and dying. Dr Oldman opens the book and it's just blank pages. Eli dying in real life as he dies in his fantasy world. Roll credits.

Boom! (that means I'm done)

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