Eli (Washington) is a loner walking through a decimated American landscape some 30 years after "the war" brought about "the flash". His most precious possession is an old book, and he's willing to fight to the death to protect it as he heads west. Then he stumbles into a roughneck town run by the greedy Carnegie (Oldman), who's searching for the legendary book with his brutal henchman (Stevenson). And when the daughter (Kunis) of Carnegie's blind girlfriend (Beals) runs off after Eli, things get messy.
The setting consists of dusty landscapes and dead cities with a morally upright man trying to survive marauding bands of thieves and cannibals. But while The Road started here and deepened into an examination of human morality, this film is more interested in cool slow motion, grisly fights and ham-fisted religious propaganda. It looks great, and Washington is a terrific presence, but after the thoughtful, involving opening sequence, things quickly turn rather silly.
The main problem is that a standard movie structure takes over when Eli encounters Carnegie. Oldman revels in the snivelling, obsessed villain role, with Beals and Kunis playing thankless female characters amid the Mad Max extras who cackle around the edges. Sudden scenes of grim violence keep us on edge, while the over-serious tone is mercifully undercut by a few comical asides (UK audiences will particularly enjoy thespians Gambon and de la Tour as nutty survivalists).
But the script itself isn't half as clever as it thinks it is, throwing in vague references to environmental catastrophes, holy wars and oppressive regimes. Yes, there's a guilty pleasure element to the film, even if it gets a bit too long and takes a couple of contrived twists (try not to think about where they get petrol for their gas-guzzling trucks). But it's the way potentially interesting characters disappear into thin stereotypes that leaves a bad taste in our mouths.
Run time: 118 mins
In Theaters: Friday 15th January 2010
Box Office USA: $94.3M
Box Office Worldwide: $159.3M
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Production compaines: Alcon Entertainment, Silver Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 48%
Fresh: 92 Rotten: 100
IMDB: 6.9 / 10
Director: The Hughes Brothers
Screenwriter: Gary Whitta
Starring: Denzel Washington as Eli, Gary Oldman as Carnegie, Michael Gambon as George, Mila Kunis as Solara, Jennifer Beals as Claudia, Ray Stevenson as Redridge, Frances de la Tour as Martha, Tom Waits as Engineer, Lateef Crowder as Highjacker #3, Chris Browning as Highjacker Leader, Joe Pingue as Hoyt, Evan Jones as Martz, Lora Cunningham as Young Woman Highjacker, Malcolm McDowell as Lombardi
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