According to Eli, these horrors are the results from a society that once had more than it needed, that never recognized the difference between necessities and luxuries, and he sees them now, desperate for what they had taken for granted. A moral lesson here?
Eli is - to use the already tierd adjective - an iconic survivor, capable of defending himself with deft use of his trusty bow & arrows, pistol and - especially - a very sharp scimitar. He carries himself with the air of a warrior, at the same time wears the aura of a seemingly indestructible prophet. All his senses are sharp as that scimitar - another valuable tool for survival.
He winds up in an old-Wild West-type town, where people make the most of what they've got left, in the midst of rust, peeling walls, non-existent plumbing and - for money or trade - water. Major domo of a wreck of a hotel and pleasure palace, Carnegie (Gary Oldman) rules with a band of unsavory bodyguards. He collects whatever books brought to him for barter, searching eagerly for the one that contains words that can make him more powerful and richer - the Bible. When he learns that Eli is carrying oneŠ
The battle is on. One of the younger women (Solara), daughter of a blind mistress to Carnegie (Jennifer Beals), forces herself on Eli and follows him on his Western course. They are trailed by Carnegie & his troop of thugs, who in battered, patched-up trucks easily catch up with the pair. A confrontation ensues; then, despite serious obstacles, Eli makes it to his destination, where amazing truths are told and surprising revelations are made.
For two hours we are witness to an irritatingly uneven but stylishly made film that purports a message about - what? - a Second Coming? A return to a new kind of reality? Humanity rebounding? Whatever. Obviously, it's not the puzzling storyline that directors Albert & Allen Hughes offer as much as it is the production itself. Not since the old Clint Eastwood shoot-em-ups have we been witness to carnage after carnage, but all done up in magnificent style from a host of imaginative creators:
Don Burgess's cameras capture the bleakness in de-saturated colors against a glaring & rapidly scudding sky, while Ross & Ross highlight every moment with an equally bleak musical score - brass tones quivering, base rhythms throbbing, kettle drums rumbling - sometimes so softly they create stifled impressions rather than sounds, and other times shrieking to underscore Western-type action.
The strongest images, set in meticulous detail, reveal a devastated society that is vividly created by the brothers Hughes. While they call for beaucoup violence, much of it is done in silhouette against the brutally brilliant sky; when they wish to create mayhem they choreograph it in the style of modern thrillers; and when it is their intent to reveal emotions, they do it in x-ray close-ups.
The brothers also draw powerful drama from all the cast, preferring, most of the time, underplayed tension to explosive melodrama. Cindy Mollo's editing is in tandem with the overall intent of the film, as she cuts to suit the action - allowing the havoc in one early scene of carnage to run on with a single take, while leaping in MTV-style cuts when the action dictates. Very satisfying.
Gary Whitta has scripted what might have been just another apocalyptic road flick (there's another on the way called "Legion"), but the Hughes Brothers have managed to create a fascinating entertainment here by making production values more important than the pseudo-religious storyline.
Not perfect, however. They might have thought that with all the tension & action created, audiences might miss a few glaring errors, like the fact that a teen-age girl who'd likely never been in a car before suddenly leaps into one, turns the key, & drives down the broken highway like a trouper. Or that a California vista briefly reveals rolling hills of lively, leafy trees. But then, who strives for perfection in Hollywood these days? (Grade: B)