(Hughes Brothers, 2010)
The first act of The Book of Eli is terrific and suggests that it will be an impressive film. The Hughes brothers find a series of eerie images to capture this world, thirty years on from the 'big flash", Denzel Washington lend his magnetism to the taciturn, efficiently murderous protagonist, and the society we encounter is just complex and different enough to be interesting.
A small settlement run by Gary Oldman (who holds power due to his knowledge of where there is water) becomes the focus and correspondingly, the film becomes less impressive. Our hero, an "outlander" who wanders the wasteland, comes to town, gets into a saloon fight - just like in a classic western - and attracts the attention of Oldman's character, who is set on finding a Bible, realising he can use it to control everyone, with or without water. Oldman sets his road gangs - Mad Max style marauders - on Denzel, and there follows an increasingly weary succession of fight scenes, chases, captures and escapes..
The first few scenes contain the best action scene in the film; Washington is ambushed by a band of hijackers, retreats into the shade offered by an overpass, still wearing his shades, and proceeds to cut his way through them in a single unbroken take, all seen in silhouette. This scene and the lengthy, violent fight in the saloon suggest that the Book of Eli is really a post-apocalyptic take on Zaitoichi (confirmed by a late twist), and when it arrives at the town, the film takes on a series of Western codes and conventions.
It has moments of wit - the value of wet-wipes as barter in a post-apocalyptic world, for instance - and is nicely shot in a dry, desaturated style by Don Burgess. Oldman is good value as the villain, but Mila Kunis has no character to play beyond a series of bullet-pointed cliches, and Denzel Washington could do this in his sleep. In fact there are moments here when, shades on, you can't be sure he isn't having a sneaky nap.
What the film does well are the tough guy beats in the lead up to the action scenes, but they are fleeting.