The Hughes Brothers have a solid track record with me. They’ve made one movie I loved (Menace II Society – even with that stupid, stupid title that sounds like a sequel to a stupid thriller that doesn’t exist) and two movies I liked (Dead Presidents and From Hell). Yes. I liked From Hell. I saw it twice in theaters and own the DVD. Not a lot of love is thrown at that movie for several reasons. But one of the main reasons is because geeks love Alan Moore a hell of a lot and they like to give him handjobs every once in a while. Vigorous, well-orchestrated, passionate handjobs of the most satisfying kind.
And that’s fine. They love Alan Moore and he’s entitled to that love. He has written many great books that have resonated with people and touched them deeply. So, good for him and his handjobs. One of the great books he’s written is From Hell – a wonderful, complex, intricate book that Rafael Yglesias and Terry Hayes adapted the shit out of and, with The Hughes Brothers at the helm, was transformed into an intriguing remake of Murder By Decree. But I don’t have a problem with that. Yes, Heather Graham was slightly miscast as an ugly Irish hooker from days of yore. Primarily because she isn’t very ugly and doesn’t quite have the acting skills necessary to pull of the performance required for an ugly Irish hooker from days of yore. Be that as it may, I liked From Hell. And you didn’t. And that’s fine too.
And so, 10 years after geek fandom reportedly sent them to director jail – I love how geeks actually think they have that sort of power, by the way – The Hughes Brothers have returned with The Book Of Eli.
And I’m pissed.
The thing of it is, I have something very specific I want to discuss. And, in order to do that, I have to drop one huge turd of a spoiler. What that means is if you haven’t yet seen The Book Of Eli, you might want to part ways with me here. Or at least when I issue the BIG IMPORTANT WARNING that I will throw out there in a little bit. Because, yes, I’m going to extensively discuss the film’s ending. So… You might want to be careful. Unless you have no interest in seeing The Book Of Eli anyway, or are one of those weird individuals who don’t mind having a movie completely blown for them. There are a few of those and I respect that. Just don’t make me one of you. But, if you don’t mind, that’s fine by me.
So… As Armand Assante once said to Timothy Hutton, while pointing his pianist’s index finger at him, in Sydney Lumet’s underrated film Q & A: You’ve been warned.
And then Timothy Hutton responds by saying: If you ever point your finger at me again, I’m gonna rip it off and shove it up your ass.
To which Assante coolly replies: Then I guess we’ve both been warned.
And that little exchange is one of the great film moments of the 90s. Seriously. It’s just one of the many elements, together with the best performance of Luis Guzman’s career and a terrific Nick Nolte villain, that make Q & A a much better film than it’s ever given credit for. I’ve even come to love Ruben Blades’s horrendous theme song: Don’t Double Cross The Ones You Love.
What was I talking about?
Oh, right… The Book Of Eli.
So, you’ve been warned. As I was saying…
The official running time of the film is 118 minutes. Though it feels much longer than that. But that’s not what pisses me off. I’m fine with old-fashioned pacing. Remember? Those 70 minute Roger Corman and William Castle classics that feel like they go on for years? My point is: I didn’t time it, but I would have to say that I was having a grand old time for 97 or 98 of those 118 minutes.
I like the texture of the piece. It’s a great-looking movie that looks like shit at the same time. I think that, as part of bringing this post-apocalyptic world to life, they went to great lengths to make it as visually unpleasant as possible. And it works.
I also like that it’s an old-fashioned Western set in the future. I don’t mean that it’s “futuristic” like Outland or a Western-type picture in an unusual setting like the movies that John Carpenter always insists are Westerns when they’re definitely not Westerns. He’s so obsessed with Westerns that, as far as he’s concerned, everything is a Western. I mean, he even claims that The Thing and In The Mouth Of Madness are Westerns.
John Carpenter is crazy.
But The Book Of Eli is literally a Western. The hero makes a big deal of reminding us all that he’s travelling west, for example. And, outside of the setting, there is nothing particularly futuristic about it. The story takes place after the BIG ONE finally went off and fucked us all. So, things have been dialed back to a more primitive time. But not, like, stone age primitive… Because that wouldn’t lend itself well to shootouts and vehicular mayhem. So, just primitive enough to still allow for squibs and explosions.
And the film’s plot is a classic scenario where Denzel is the man with no name who might be named Eli, wandering through the wasteland on a very specific mission. Until he wanders into a crappy frontier town run by evil Gary Oldman. But it’s a cool town, because there’s a hardware store run by Tom Waits. And I wouldn’t mind hanging out in a town with a hardware store run by Tom Waits. He’s a man you can trust. I don’t remember his character’s name, so I like to imagine that this is kind of like The Postman (not the boring Italian one, the bad Kevin Costner movie with Tom Petty), where Tom Waits just plays himself. He survived the nuclear holocaust that left most people either blind or illiterate (or both) and now he runs a hardware store.
Meanwhile, Gary Oldman is the evil overlord who sends his illiterate henchmen out looking for books while he sits in his apartment on top of the local saloon and washes Jennifer Beals’s hair. There’s more to it than that, but I kind of want to get to the good part as quickly as possible.
So, in wanders Denzel, and he stops off at the hardware store to get something fixed. While he waits, he goes across the street to the saloon to get a drink; and he ends up getting into some trouble, having to kick ass, kill some people… But then, Oldman offers the place up like a bed & breakfast anyway. And then there is some more action and people getting shot and blah, blah, blah… etc
I like Gary Oldman in the film because I always enjoy watching Gary Oldman play a villain. As do all of you. The one he plays here is not quite as bat-shit as everyone’s favorite Gary Oldman villain. He’s more like that guy’s more laid-back cousin from the sticks. He keeps it real, for the most part, until he loses his temper and has to rough up either Jennifer Beals or her daughter (in the film, not in real life) Mila Kunis. He roughs them up by pulling on their hair and screaming at them. That’s how he rolls, I guess. He seems to have an obsession (or fetish?) with hair. Maybe that’s why his right hand man, played by Ray Stevenson, is bald by choice. (“Bald by Choice” – terminology for those who decide to live with the comfort of a shaved head.)
So, there’s action and shooting and some explosions and fights and decapitations and all that cool stuff. And Gary Oldman gets to be a cool villain and say cool villain things like: I love this guy. Shoot him, please. And it’s all fine and dandy and entertaining and just fine.
And this goes on for 97 or 98 of the film’s 118 minutes. Remember that.
Because I’m still trying to figure out why the movie needs 20 minutes to end. That’s how long it takes. There is a climax. And it’s a pretty good one. It involves a Gaitling gun and a house in the middle of fucking nowhere, that gets shot to bits, where a cannibal played by Michael Gambon dies like an asshole. His wife dies too. But not like an asshole.
And you get to see the scene you knew you were going to see. The one where Denzel basically gets to be Jesus. Where he’s surrounded by all the bad guys and he makes the ultimate sacrifice, by giving up that book of the film’s title so that Gary Oldman can stop pulling on Mila Kunis’s hair. And then he gets shot with the dramatic music swelling and Mila Kunis screaming silently in slow motion, and etceteras.
And then, just in case the swiss cheese house wasn’t enough for the action enthusiast, the movie throws another climax at you. And this one is pretty good. It involves Mad Max vehicular mayhem on a freeway… With Mila Kunis fucking shit up and using a grenade to blow up a truck that flips over as it explodes. And Ray Stevenson gets impaled on the sword he stole from Denzel Washington because subtlety is for pussies.
I even like the film’s big reveal. It’s one of those WHAT A TWEEEEEST!!!!!! movie moments that people love so much…
See, the movie is called The Book Of Eli. It’s one of those important-sounding, cool titles that make you want to punch the screenwriter in the nuts. And the book in question…..
Actually, never mind. Because, if you read this far, you probably know all about the bible and Gary Oldman wanting to use it to manipulate the weak and all that so I’ll just cut to the chase.
I like the convoluted way in which the reveal is presented. Gary Oldman gets home with his bible and he calls on trusty old Tom Waits from across the street to open it up for him only to discover that…GASP…it’s in braille! And then you get the scene with Denzel at Alcatraz, reciting the whole bible from memory to Malcolm McDowell and we zoom in on his fucked up eyes, realizing that we’ve been watching Pale Rider meets Zatoichi. (Well… Not pale rider, but you know what I mean.)
And if the end of the movie were that shot of Gary Oldman sitting there hopeless with the braille bible open in the foreground, I think that would have been fine. Why? Because the story is over at exactly this point. We get it. He won. Denzel made it to Alcatraz, where the remnants of our culture are being preserved, and he gave them the one very important piece they needed. Meanwhile, Gary Oldman ended up with egg on his face. Period.
But no. Because then we get the scene where Oldman begs the blind Jennifer Beals to read the bible to him and she says: fuck you because my daughter Mila Kunis is not around anymore for you to pull on her hair. And you can pull on my hair now if you want, but I still won’t read it to you, you fucking stupid loser and, besides, you have gangrene from when Denzel shot you in the leg an hour into the picture. So, ttyl and I think I’ll go and eat a sandwich or something.
…Meanwhile Denzel is still reciting the bible to McDowell…
And then, Gary Oldman crawls out to see how he’s lost control of his people and they’re trashing his place. But all he can do is sit there on the landing and watch his empire crumble around him.
…And Denzel keeps on reciting that bible…
…And then Denzel eventually dies while dressed like Eddie Murphy in Holy Man…. (Yes, I saw Holy Man. So did you. Eat shit.)
…And then Mila Kunis takes up Denzel’s arms, dresses like a badass and decides to go back home to restore the peace…
…And she walks off into the distance…
And THEN – the credits roll.
I don’t even mind the film’s heart-on-its-sleeve pro religion slant. I can dig how it’s one of the first action pictures since Billy Jack that seem to want its audience to say PRAISE JESUS! And I have some dear friends who will probably love that about the movie. I get that Oldman represents clerical corrruption of the Jimmy Swaggart variety and Denzel represents the righteous on the path of the light, wanting to spread His word to those who need and deserve it. That’s all fine. But I just can’t get past that neverending ending…
I mean, if you’re going to give us an extra 20 minutes, then at least make them count.
Give henchman Ray Stevenson a really cool death. One where he gets thrown off a cliff, or shot in the head, or blown to smithereens by a rocket launcher. Not a lame number where he gets fucked in the chest by a silver phallus and then sits on the side of the road crying, while Mila Kunis drives away laughing at his cuckolded ass.
Give chief villain Gary Oldman a really awesome death. One where he gets decapitated by a speeding train, or thrown onto some spikes, or gets a grenade shoved down his pants. Not silly bullshit about him sitting down and crying himself to death because these people downstairs are having a really cool party and they didn’t invite him.
A movie should be over when it’s over. Not everyone can be tantric like Sting. Besides, Sting is full of shit anyway.
That’s what pissed me off about The Book Of Eli.
Thank you all for coming.