★ ★ 1/2
The Book of Eli is one of the most uneven movies I've seen. The Hughes Brothers, in conjunction with veteran cinematographer Don Burgess, took a mediocre screenplay, and turned it into a visual masterpiece. The film is set in a post-apocalyptic America. The clouds loom heavily over the barren countryside like a divine presence. Their eerily shifting tones suggest a reckoning to come. And that reckoning will come, courtesy of a man carrying the world's last bible. Hey, I had to take at least one jab at the plot. There will be more to come.
I hardly feel the plot is worth mentioning. Its premise is problematic, leading to an absurd finally. Everything in between was passable, at times pleasingly minimalist. Not bad for screenwriter Gary Whitta's first try. The dialogue was never laughable (an accomplishment, given the premise), though several of Oldman's lines may have been so in the hands of a lesser actor. Denzel was solid as always, playing a better action hero than I'd have imagined. Mila Kunis proved that she can play a serious role (which makes me all the more excited for Black Swan).
Despite massive budgets, few Hollywood directors seem to give much though to cinematography. You could be forgiven for thinking that they don't give a minute of thought to when they should (and shouldn't) cut, or what type of lens filter they should use. These are the little things that make good movies great (or mediocre ones palatable). These are things that Don Burgess clearly gave much thought to. The film was shot through a sepia filter, darkening the already bleak atmosphere. Long, steady shots accentuate the sterility of the nightmarish wasteland. At one point, the camera circles Eli during a barroom brawl, highlighting the sheer improbability of Eli's eventual triumph. Filmed with a fixed camera, the scene would have been nowhere near as interesting.
If you're interested in cinematography, The Book of Eli is a must see. It certainly deserves an Oscar nod in that category. Otherwise, I wouldn't be too concerned about missing it.