There is no doubt that a big-budget studio picture ($80 million, to be exact) of a post-apocalyptic thriller styled in the vein of 2009's THE ROAD and 1981's MAD MAX 2: THE ROAD WARRIOR, which is shown in the month of January -- commonly known as "dumping ground" -- clearly not a good sign. Which is rather surprising though, because the Hughes brothers' (Albert and Allen) long-awaited directorial efforts since their 2001's poorly-received FROM HELL, is a slick and entertaining action thriller with a compelling Christian propaganda hook.
Set at the distant future of unspecified time in the post-apocalyptic world, we follows a lone drifter (Denzel Washington) who have been walking for the past thirty years after a "war" has destroyed pretty much of the population. His sole mission is to head west in which he will delivered a book of great significance that in his possession inside his backpack. After encountering a bunch of savages along the way, he travels past a small town ruled by the power-hungry Carnegie (Gary Oldman), who have been sending his people in a desperate frenzy to locate for a certain book he declares it so important because the book will help him to change the remaining mankind. Carnegie is particularly impressed with the drifter's self-defense ability to take down most of his men in a bar fight over some petty issue that he offers him hospitality for a night, which included a bed, food and a sex service from his daughter Solara (Mila Kunis) to cheer him up. But the drifter doesn't want anything from her, and refuses to tell her anything about the book she is so curious to know about it. The following morning, he manages to escape but Solara, who is fed-up with her life living like a slave, chooses to flee so she can join him in the journey. While they are on the run, Carnegie and his men set out in a pursuit to locate them at all means necessary.
Despite the movie's religious tone, THE BOOK OF ELI is thankfully less heavy-handed than it looks set to be. While debutant Gary Whitta's screenplay is somewhat hollow and too chilly (particularly in the middle part), the movie manages to sustain most of its momentum, thanks to the Hughes brothers' assured direction and fine casts.
Denzel Washington is engaging enough to portray a world-weary, self-made prophet that his no-name character easily recalled the best of Clint Eastwood in THE MAN WITH NO NAME trilogy. While his acting part is far from his best, he manages to impress the viewers by performing all of his own stunts with his surprisingly slick hand-to-hand combats (in which he is studied martial arts under Bruce Lee's protege, Dan Inosanto). Likewise, it's good to see the always-reliable Gary Oldman to play a despicable villain we love to hate, and it's especially entertaining to see them two playing off against each other.
But the real deal remains evident from its technical standpoint. The Hughes brothers knows well how to craft a visually stimulating picture that is simply captivating to look at. Aided by Don Burgess's color-drenched cinematography using sepia tones that verge on a near black-and-white tone, the movie has the subtle feel of a post-apocalyptic world. The action is sparse but nevertheless exciting and stylish enough to hold one's attention, it's great to see how the Hughes brothers made full use of their slick camera angles to create a kinetic sense of urgency that puts you right in the middle of the action without resulting into an annoying shaky-cam effect. Such scenes including the silhouette-inspired fight sequence involving Denzel's character against a bunch of savages using his Bowie knife; a climactic shootout at a house in the middle of nowhere; and a highway chase sequence -- are simply spectacular.
Welcome back, Hughes brothers.