Bloody typical. You wait millennia for an apocalypse, then two come at once.
Still, you get a choice of how the world ends: with a bang as Denzel Washington’s kung fu prophet kicks ass for the Lord in The Book Of Eli; or with a whimper as Viggo Mortensen’s haggard Christ-a-like trundles his trolley through an ashen wasteland in The Road. It’s a choice between fiery Old Testament vengeance and New Testament forgiveness. Atheists are shit out of luck.
At least the Hughes Brothers’ Book doesn’t let its religious pretensions get in the way of Mad Max thrills. Traipsing through the irradiated wasteland, eating cats and listening to his almost-dead iPod, Washington’s Eli is as happy taking out bad guys with his samurai machete as he is singing hallelujah.
True, the religious theme is a central plot point. Gary Oldman’s villain is searching for The Last Known Bible, but his mind-control plans are so ludicrous, who cares?
The real draw is the spaghetti western homages, Tom Waits bartering goods and hand grenades being 10-pin bowled under trucks. Screenwriter Gary Whitta (a former Future Publishing employee and videogame writer) knows the religious schtick is just window dressing; his faith ultimately isn’t in God but in the knowledge that most of his audience have played Fallout 3.
The Road, however, has the piety of a martyrdom, inspired by high art not PlayStations. Viggo Mortensen’s dying dad spends 111 minutes trying to keep his 11-year-old son (whiny weakling Kodi Smit-McPhee) from getting raped and cannibalised.
Configuring Mortensen’s trek through a slag heap of a dead world as a latter-day Pilgrim’s Progress, John Hillcoat’s (The Proposition) film showcases intense performances from its leads as they struggle to preserve their humanity in a world where humanity is about as useful as Louis Vuitton hand luggage. The Boy, who knows nothing of the world before the end, believes there are good guys and bad guys, those who carry the flame of righteousness and those who don’t. The Man indulges him, secretly hoping it might somehow be true.
There’s no ass kicking, just the persistent threat of suicide and filicide: the scenes where father shows son how to end it all with a gun in the mouth are unforgiving. Pity the ending botches so much, the stunning final page of Cormac McCarthy’s novel dumbed down into a redemptive fantasy.
At least The Book Of Eli is true to its popcorn mission; The Road’s fade out is as synthetic as Prozac. Extras for both unavailable at press time.
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