UPDATE: I wasn't able to cut it. I saw a lot of both fantastic and horrible films in 2009 but I wasn't able to keep up reviewing all of them with school being so hectic. So here I go giving it another try again with "year 2." I'm also going to start rating movies as good, okay, or bad. Keep in mind I try to just collect my thoughts and not write a formal review.
Post-apocalyptic movies must be challenging to make. You have to say something special about humanity that could only be said in an "end-of-the-world" setting and not just make it a statement about humanity in general. After all, films set in modern times can work that way just as well. A variety of topics and styles have been shown in this genre. From George Miller's Mad Max to the recent mediocre adaptation of The Road, style is a key component. Sadly, The Book of Eli falls into the category of being too stylistic with little substance.
Shot like a music video, the landscape of The Book of Eli is seen as a bleak gray populated by souls either too young (to remember what life was like before the great war that caused the end-of-times) or old souls that try to stick to the way things used to be. Grey haired people and grey environments... whether the symbolism is blatant or unconscious it just stays as an observation I made and it has no bearing on the lack of emotion present in the movie (which in my opinion is when symbolism works the best, and this movie is full of symbolic dialogue and imagery that falls flat). The film also has the typical action-movie slow-mo, sound design that is all over the place, and the typical cliche of a man walking from screen right ("so clearly he must be going west!").
The characters are unfortunately not that well thought out as well. Take the various henchmen, they are all these tall or fat bald men that might have an overabundance of facial hair so they all look the same. Having some unique supporting characters might help round out the cast but instead we have throwaway characters like the blind mother (Jennifer Beal) or the old man (Michael Gambon) who lives down the road from the shanty-town where most of the movie is set. Gary Oldman doesn't deliver one of his memorable villainous performances and instead "chews the scenery." Denzel Washington portrays the lead as a violent and peaceful man that will fight for his religious beliefs despite the preaching found within the book he carries. The statement that is trying to be made with the Eli character doesn't work well in this script by Gary Whitta (of PC Gamer magazine fame) especially considering the only character with any emotion (and no need for skin ointment) is the young girl played by the beautiful Mila Kunis.
The action sequences aren't even that special but they are at least the only scenes that are remotely interesting, exciting, or even complex. In the meantime there is no stable balance of emotion surrounding the book itself. In fact, I could care less about the book since there are two polar opposites (Washington's Eli and Oldman's Carnegie) vying for control of it. Also, a lot of people have been talking about the twist at the end but to me it feels like a "what the fuck" moment for a "what the fuck" moments' sake. It adds nothing to the character except make him seem more powerful (read as "badass") than he seems.
The worst thing about this film, is that it doesn't grab your attention (despite how the entire first ten minutes are "meant" to be emotional). There is nothing inventive about this post-apocalyptic tale and when telling stories about the end of the world, that is what you need to be- inventive. Just having intensity... well that doesn't work unless you have drama which the directors (Albert Hughes and Allen Hughes) have demonstrated with their past films- Menace II Society as well as Dead Presidents.