So this is Joel Silver’s take on The Road.
Here we are, thirty years after The Flash, the war that led to the end of the world and down that road, through the scorched desert wilderness, walks a man called Eli. A man on a mission. Denzel Washington is using that confident, rolling stride of his to walk across America, heading always West. Has been ever since the war.
Hang on? Thirty years walking in a straight line? A quick bit of maths: If he wanders along at two miles an hour for, say, eight hours a day, has weekends off, gives himself four weeks holiday a year for good behaviour and keeps that up for thirty years … that’s a hair over 115,000 miles. In a straight line. Just how big do Americans think their country is?
Anyway. Interestingly, it seems that the war was fought over religion and, immediately after it, religious books like The Bible were gathered together and burned. He carries something very precious, therefore: the last surviving Bible. He knows it’s the last one because, presumably, God told him.
He certainly claims that God told him where to find it and that he has to take it West where, one day, he will find somewhere were he and it will be safe. Until he gets there, he must read it every day. Until he gets there, he must kill everyone who tries to take it from him. Until he gets there, he will be protected by it.
Well, that part seems to be born-out by experience because, whenever he encounters violent resistance (invariably in the form of half-a-dozen or more people arranged in a circle around him) he successfully manages to take them all out with his very impressive high-speed kung-fu.
Washington’s kung-fu is so good he can escape from a locked room without anyone noticing and he can produce a bow and arrow from nowhere at will. His kung-fu is so good bullets just pass harmlessly through him (Hm. Maybe he’s The One … oh, sorry, wrong Joel Silver film). Indeed, during one ludicrous sequence, machine-guns, a mini-gun and a rocket-launcher all fail to touch him.
This is a useful skill to have because, when he wanders into a ramshackle border town to get his ipod re-charged (yes, really), he finds it is run by Carnegie who is played by Gary Oldman in full-on furniture-chewing mode and you know there aren’t many ways that can be a good thing.
Indeed it can’t. Carnegie is one of the few literate men left in the world and he has a passion for books – but he desires one book in particular. Can you guess which one? Can you? That’s right. Dumb luck, a contrived script or God’s inscrutable plan have brought the only man with a Bible into the precincts of the only other man who wants it bad enough to kill for it.
As he quickly runs short of henchmen, Carnegie demonstrates that he will quite literally sacrifice anything to possess the book. But Washington doesn’t want to play. He continues heading in one direction, Oldman following close behind in a convoy of cars he mysteriously has the fuel for. His few remaining henchmen bristling with all varieties of machine-guns which he, equally mysteriously, has ammo for.
Unfortunately, by this time, my disbelief would need wings to stay suspended. Why? Well, partly because Denzel briefly holes-up with a couple of dotty old homesteaders, played by Frances De La Tour and Michael Gambon – who both have a riotous time taking the piss mercilessly out of these poor, dumb Americans. They both have ‘the shakes’ which, Washington sagely informs us, is brought on by eating too much human meat. Yes, you did read that correctly: Dumbledore is a cannibal! How could I take the film seriously after that?
There are some excellent cinematic flourishes here … not least in the staging of the thrilling fight-scenes, one of which is acted out entirely in silhouette under a bridge. Also, the assault on the old folks’ home is filmed with a sweeping camera which moves in and out and around with no apparent edits. Both sequences remind one of the visual virtuosity of The Hughes Brothers’ Dead Presidents (1995).
But, overall, the film demands too much forgiveness. And here’s where I’m going to spoil the film for those who haven’t seen it.
Read no further if you have any interest in seeing this film.
Okay, have they gone?
So … exactly how far are we prepared to forgive the Hugheses their trespasses?
Are we prepared to forgive them for ram-raiding Mad Max 2 (1981)? Yes, I suppose so. How about Fahrenheit 451 (book 1953, film 1966). Hmm … at a push. Will we forgive them for being the latest in a long line of movies to semi-demolished The Golden Gate Bridge? Well, of course. It wouldn’t be an end-of-the-world movie without old reliable.
But what about the more serious sins of incredible plotting, the blame for which would seem to lie firmly at the door of first-time script-writer Gary Whitta? Well, Whitta’s background includes designing video games wherein one can pick up and put down weapons at will without carrying them and where re-spawning when dead is common-place. Okay, so that can explain some of Washington’s kung-fu powers. But … and here’s the big one … can we forgive him the conceit of having a blind man successfully demonstrating none of the behaviour of a man with no sight?
There is a heritage of blind fighters in Eastern cinema (Zatoichi, for example) so we can, I suppose, let that slide. If absolutely pushed, I might begrudgingly acknowledge that he can have a sense of direction and therefore know when he’s heading West. But to walk so confidently with no fear of encountering an obstruction in the road, not even a pot-hole? To be woken up every morning by the sun? To know there is a house in the middle of an otherwise deserted plain? To jump when opening a door and finding a hanging body?
I’m sorry but, unless he has Daredevil’s radar I really can’t buy that he never gives even the slightest hint of his blindness to anyone, even another blind person.
Fair enough, as surprise endings go, you’ll no more have seen this one coming than Eli would himself … but that’s because you’ll be expecting a twist that is both clever and possible. However elegant the last few moments of the movie may seem, they just don’t bear thinking about too much.
The one saving grace of this denouement, is the fate reserved for the book once delivered. It is put on a shelf, next to the last existing copy of The Koran and there, presumably, it will remain; like Indy’s Ark of the Covenant: filed out of harm’s way … until God tells someone else where to find it.
Dirs: Albert and Allan Hughes
Stars: Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis, Ray Stevenson.
Dur: 118 mins
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