Films Reviewed: The Lovely Bones, Edge of Darkness, The Book of Eli

Crummy movies. And there are quite a few.

Let’s start with The Lovely Bones, based on the novel by Alice Sebold, and directed by Peter Jackson, who did the Lord of the Rings.

Little Susie Salmon is an innocent teenaged girl with a happy family, a loving dad who puts ships into glass bottles, a boy she likes, and a shopping mall to hang out at. But one day she’s brutally murdered in a cornfield on the way home from high school. She’s caught in some limbo where she can see her family falling apart and the evil murderer getting away with it. Her sister and father try to catch the killer and stop their family troubles as Susie tries to come to terms with her own death.

This sounds like it could be a really good adventure/thriller, with unusual supernatural elements, and a poignant story. But it wasn’t. It was gross! And uncomfortable, and tacky, if a movie can be tacky. Just the whole look of the movie was unintentionally wrong, especially the otherwordly, limbo scenes. Are we supposed to feel attached to a fake tree suddenly losing all its CGI leaves? Who cares?

The whole movie felt like an out-take from Ghost Whisperer — “Step into the light…Come to the light…” “Not before I tell them my secret!” — but without Jennifer Love Hewitt to provide some link between the two sides.

On the plus side, the thriller scenes were great, with the evil and scary murderer in a race with Susie’s relatives – who feel driven to avenge her death and catch her killer. And some of the acting was also fun, especially Susan Sarandon as a hilariously flamboyant, alcoholic grandmother, who exalts in puffing cigarettes and sweeping metaphoric dust under the rug; and an almost unrecognizeable Stanley Tucci as the creepy neighbour, Mr Harvey. But on the whole, this movie doesn’t work. If you want to see a great movie by Peter Jackson, look for one from his early New Zealand days, Heavenly Creatures, the polar opposite of The Lovely Bones.

And this shows you that just because a movie’s been adapted from a novel doesn’t mean a it’s good.

Opening tonight, there’s Edge of Darkness, a thriller vengeance movie, directed by another kiwi, Martin Campbell, and starring Mel Gibson.

Craven (played by Gibson) is a Boston police detective whose daughter is killed on his doorstop just before she has a chance to tell him something important. Torn apart by grief, and haunted by hallucinations of his daughter who talks to him, he vows to find her killer or killers and make them pay. And he knows his fellow cops in Boston will watch his back.

But he soon finds himself in the middle of something involving his daughter’s shady employers, Northmoor. (the movie keeps many of the names from the old BBC miniseries from which this was adapted) There is some hint of corporate malfeasance, scared whistle blowers, and homeland security spooks. Everyone is lying or too scared to tell him the truth, and people keep getting shot and run down, just before he finds out the secrets. And Jedburgh, a heavy-set English spy, is keeping his eye on things from the margins.

There are some really great scenes of revelations, plot turns, confrontations, and some good chases and escape scenes. The problem is the movie doesn’t sustain it. So you’ll be on the edge of your seat, and then it’ll settle in for some long boring parts again. Mel Gibson plays the psychotic, angry father scenes pretty well, they’re fun, but he falls into awful overacting. In fact there’s a lot of that – there’s a death scene (one of many) that’s like in a sketch comedy that takes ten slow falls and gaspings and near deaths, (just die!) before one character finally exhales its last breath. And an exhausted Mel stumbling up a staircase in a shootout had the whole house laughing – except… it was a serious scene. Oops. The movie also had some interesting if unintentional twists, where there’s a Republican Massachusetts senator in the movie (even though the surprise midterm election was just last week) and crucial information is passed to an investigative journalist – from Fox News?

But the complicated conspiracy plot is so nebulous and twisted it isn’t even worth pondering its implications.

Finally, there’s The Book of Eli, a post-apocalyptic action drama directed by the Hughes brothers.

Eli (played by Denzel Washington) is a hobo living in a destroyed America, traveling on a highway toward the west coast with a heavy bible-looking book. He eats whatever he finds and defends himself from strangers. Water, not food, is the commodity in this world. When he wanders into a western town, he is set upon by illiterate motorcycle gangs. He eventually teams up with Solara, a tough young woman held hostage by a corrupt town boss. In this post-nuclear world, the town boss thinks his literacy is power, and that a copy of the bible will give him absolute power.

On the surface, this seems like a lo-cal version of The Road, with more sword fights and punch outs and chase scenes, and less depressing heaviness, and profundity.

(This movie also borrows heavily from movies like The Road Warrior, the Japanese Zatoichi series, and just about every western ever made.)

And I thought, what a junky piece of Bush-era crap,

where the heroes quote scripture and shoot up everyone they meet in the name of God and America. But when I thought about it a bit more, I liked it a bit more. I think it was better than I first gave it credit. And I think it had a message. (And this won’t give anything away.)

By reclaiming evangelical Christianity after it had become strictly right-wing territory, The Book of Eli lets the baptism of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. overthrow the corrupt, power-hungry southern whites, as symbolized by false preachers like Gary Oldman (the town boss).

The film rejects the intolerance of fundamentalist “culture wars” and intentionally embraces alternative lifestyles. An old couple they meet on the road are humanized by showing their love of 70’s gay disco records. California, Eli’s ultimate destination, is shown not as a fallen Sodom and Gommorah, but as the new Jerusalem — where, Eli hopes, faith and learning are kept alive despite the near destruction of the world. Hobo preachers spread the word and fight against censorship, while the corrupt false preachers horde their information, emulate Mussolini’s fascism, and use illiterate lackies and blackshirted soldiers to hold on to their power and fuel their dreams of a water-hording empire.

Is it a coincidence that this movie was released on the weekend of Martin Luther King’s birthday? No. The Hughes brothers
are reclaiming the gospel in the name of educated, inclusive, black centrists — led by Barry Obama.

While not a great movie, The Book of Eli is an interesting one.

Daniel Garber, January 28, 2010

One Response

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  1. Tumble Dryers said, on November 25, 2010 at 5:44 am

    denzel washington is of course one of the sexiest black actors that you can ever see ‘~.


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