Top three skills in the postapocalyptic world: 1) bulletmaking, 2) sword- and/or stick-fighting, 3) sauce cooking.
Look, a petty tyrant can find any number of rough dudes dressed in spikes and old tires to enforce his cruel whims. Being able to make gravy, dressing or curry out of common herbs and vegetables? That's going to look mighty priceless once we run out of canned stuff and it's leaf and beetle stew for the third time this week. If you're a saucier in that world, you'll be calling shots like Babe Ruth.
With that in mind, I'd like to make any would-be rulers of Wasteland America aware that I know the difference between cilantro and coriander. (Ha! Trick statement: there isn't one.) Just keep that in mind as you're brushing up on your dictatorial skills with movies such as The Book of Eli.
Thirty years after the war that drenched the earth in solar radiation and killed almost everyone, Denzel Washington makes his way west, eating cats to survive, scavenging what little there is to find.
On a stop for water in a town of barbarians, his studly killing powers catch the eye of local ruler Gary Oldman. Oldman soon learns Washington's got something he desperately wants — the world's last copy of the Bible, the book Oldman wants to use to establish and control a new empire. And he'll do anything to get it.
In the face of post-apocalypse movies, I'm as helpless as a lone traveler trapped by a gang of filthy cannibals. Even when, like in The Book of Eli, they're more or less The Road squashed up with Left Behind and Mad Max (you know what, I hereby swear to never compare an apocalypse movie to Mad Max again; it's like saying a zombie movie owes something to Night of the Living Dead) — even then, I'm going to have a good time.
Yet some times are gooder than others. The Book of Eli starts off promising goodness: a lone man doing what he needs to survive, showing signs of cracking, but keeping himself together with small rituals. It isn't new, but it is engrossing.
Then, when Washington's confronted by bad, bad men, he chop sueys them up in a well-choreographed scene of ultraviolence. Ooh! Where'd he learn to fight like that? Where'd he get that rocking sword? Just who is this man of mystery, and what is his quest?
It turns out he's the world's deadliest K-Mart employee (apparently before the collapse of society, the price wars with Target and Walmart got especially deadly), and he's on a mission to take that last surviving Bible...somewhere. And he's a devout Christian who slices off hands, guts people and shotguns them into the muck.
It's all in self-defense, but it's a strange interpretation from first-time screenwriter Gary Whitta. It kind of feels like wanting to have your cake (faith can be valuable, especially in a lawless land of cannibalism, rape and murder) and eat it, too (violence is fun).
Smartly, however, it never gets too heavy-handed with all that. Nor does it shy away from the grim realities of its future. But almost nothing in its peripherals makes sense — where did he learn to fight like that? How could every copy of the most widely printed book of all time be found and burned? Why does eating human flesh make people crazy? — and all those details, lightweight on their own, add up to a crushing lack of attention to detail. Mild bummer when The Book of Eli is otherwise an interesting if imperfect shot at a genre I love.