Daily Archives: June 20, 2010



I’ll bet The Book of Eli looked great on paper.  In some Hollywood conference room, the movie’s sales pitch might have gone something like this:  “Post-apocalyptic – but with a serious theme (we’ve included the King James Bible!).  We’ve got Denzel on board; he’s going to produce, as well.  And the picture will look great – special effects galore!  As for plot, well, we’ve borrowed some stuff from Ray Bradbury’s story, Fahrenheit 451, so we’re not too concerned about that, and audiences love twist endings.  Boy, have we got a twist ending!”

The Book of Eli is certainly stylish, and it really does look great.  Its barren, desert landscapes resemble a montage of the coolest-looking album covers you can imagine.  And Denzel Washington is suitably somber, doing his best “man with no name,” Clint Eastwood-channeling.  Gary Oldman is, as always, eminently watchable as the movie’s villain, a cackling madman who decides that the Bible is all he needs to expand his post-nuclear slice of America.

It is The Book of Eli’s misfortune that it opened so close to the premiere of a much superior after-the-bomb movie, The Road.  I guess the cinematography and art direction are grander in Eli than in Road, and a bit more “happens,” plot-wise, in Denzel’s movie.  But all of Washington’s glum stares, ominous growls, and a somber, strings-heavy soundtrack can’t overcome the pretentious, derivative story, shallow characters, and preposterous twist ending.         Grade:  C+




Directors:  Albert Hughes, Allen Hughes  Cast:  Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis, Ray Stevenson, Jennifer Beals, Michael Gambon, Tom Waits, Malcolm McDowell  Release:  2010


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by Ian McEwan



At one point in Atonement, the main character, an aspiring novelist, receives a rejection notice from a publishing house.  The publisher explains, “… you dedicate scores of pages to the quality of light and shade, and to random impressions … Simply put, you need the backbone of a story.”  Reading this passage, I had to wonder if Ian McEwan, the author of this wonderful novel, was perhaps quoting from one his own, early-career rejection slips.  I wonder about that because if I have one quibble with Atonement, it would be about the very quality that so many readers adore in their literature:  descriptive scenes in which we learn about the trees on a street, the smells emanating from a nearby restaurant, etcetera.

A lot of people love that sort of thing.  It is the essence of literature, to them.  I happen to be more of a “story” and “backbone” fan.  I think descriptive prose can be overdone, and is suited more to poetry.  But if I’m giving the impression that Atonement lacks narrative drive and power, forgive me, because McEwan’s novel is a strong, strong book — full of “random impressions,” but also a haunting tale of a child’s mistake that ruins adult lives.


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