Monday, January 25, 2010

The End is Nigh

As if things weren't generally bad enough in the world right now, this season's movies didn't do too much to lift my spirits. Aside from a financial crisis that is two years old with no end in sight, a ever increasing presence of global warming (especially this past week in California) and the end of The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien, the dearth of exciting movies (not including Sherlock Holmes, BUT totally including Avatar) has been almost too much to bear. But, a duo of dreary, washed out films about the end of humanity left me with very different feelings and those movies were The Road and Book of Eli.

The Road stars Viggo Mortensen as the father of a young boy, wandering through a world in which some unexplained event has wiped out most of humanity. His wife, played by Charlize Theron, is unable to cope with the agony of knowing the fragility of her humanity decides to leave her family behind. Viggo travels with his son south, towards the coast, towards nothing in particular, but a hope for someplace warmer and safe from the roaming cannibal raiders that haunt the scarred landscape. Viggo struggles to protect his son and teach him to take care of himself until he is older and strong enough to protect himself.

Armed with nothing more than a down jacket and two bullets in a revolver that looks like it might fall apart after one shot, Viggo (his character has no name) tries to hide his fears from
his young son and attempts unsuccessfully to convey a convincing portrait of strength and courage. But, as the film progresses, and his health deteriorates, he becomes more manic and less of a loving father than a overbearing, overprotective father. His son takes on the traits of the nurturer and caregiver, not only caring for his father, but helping out a few of the lonely souls they meet along the way. By the end of the film, Viggo can only hope that he has taught him son well enough and the final scene leaves the audience with the belief that he has and actually provides a rather bittersweet ending.

The Road conveys a strong enough sense of plausibility that you can believe that this might actually be what the end of civilization will look like. I walked out of the movie thinking about what really mattered in life and what would be important to me if everything was lost. Who would I save? Who would I want to spend my final days with? However, in Book of Eli, the movie fails to bring across any of the emotion or levity of The Road.

Book of Eli begins with Denzel Washington as Eli, wandering through a world in which some great war has wiped out most of humanity. He hunts, scavenges and kills cannibalistic raiders in a search for fresh water and a charge for his iPod. When he happens upon a small town, it comes to light that he carries a book that self appointed mayor Carnegie (Gary Oldman) is desperate to get his hands on and Eli is steadfast in his refusal to give it up to him. The hunt begins again as Carnegie and his men chase Eli and Solara (Mila Kunis) across the sun drenched landscape of New Mexico. In the end, while Carnegie manages to get his hands on the book, a telegraphed twist renders the book useless to him and allows Eli the comfort of knowing he has completed his quest.

The film is paced poorly, uses unnecessary camera tricks to highlight otherwise pedestrian action sequences that carry no real weight and is chock full of odd cameos (Tom Waits? Michael Gambon? Malcolm McDowell as Einstein?) that pulled me out of the film, although I know the audience I was with had no idea who they were. If you make it all the way to the end and are at least mildly amused by the Zatoichi allusion, then you will probably appreciate Book of Eli for what it is. But, I got distracted by all the religious themes being thrown around and while I understand what was intended, I felt that a little more or a little less would have helped to serve the film better than the awkward medium it found itself in. And honestly, by the very end, I wished that I had just sat through Book of Mila, which looks like a far more interesting post-apocalyptic revenge action movie than the film I has just watched.


Fletch said...

Interesting question: What would be less believable - the twist at the end here, or The Book of Solara movie, in which a 5'4", 90-lb. girl with no formal training goes about the post-apocalyptic landscape on a killing spree?

I think I'll vote for the latter, despite my laughing at Mila in her closing shot of Eli.

Fletch said...

Oh, and for the record, I didn't feel as though the end was telegraphed at all (the twist, that is). Had it been, I might've forgiven the film, but instead it opened so many cans of worms that I couldn't get them all closed up, and I'm not willing to re-watch the film just to look for clues. Felt more like a big middle finger to the audience rather than a satisfying conclusion.

Big Mike Mendez said...

I felt like they kinda set it up, with the sunglasses, Flashdance being blind and by time he opened that book, i kinda had it figured out.

And no, I'm not going to watch it again, but I will watch Mila's sequel. Did they teach her hand to hand combat at the Alcatraz Institute?

Fletch said...


I actually called the book, um, being written in the way it was written. Just before Oldman opened it up, I whisper "it's SPOILER" to Mrs. Fletch. From there, I convinced myself that Denzel just happened to maybe have had a wife in his past life that also would be familiar with the way to read that way. I couldn't fathom that his character was SPOILER as well, and it's like the movie just turned off for me when they revealed that, though I also couldn't buy his other superpower (memorization). Sure, ok - it's only a few thousand pages.

Big Mike Mendez said...

But was he SPOILER the whole time? I think he was slowly going SPOILER an even then it was had to buy.

Fletch said...

Oh, it might well have been progressive, but a) I never got that feeling and b) he sure didn't change a lick over the course of the 48 hours shown in the film. He's in that state the whole damn time.

schaggydog said...

The Road was a movie I was anticipating all year long, and I'm sad to say that I still haven't seen it. Nobody wanted to see it with me. I need to just go by myself since I don't really want to wait till dvd. The book was one of the best I've read in a long time and I really hope the film lives up to the book. I really have no desire to see Book of Eli however. It just doesn't look that good.