The Look of 'Eli'
You could argue—pretty convincingly, according to The Book of Eli co-director Allen Hughes—that the iconic look of the film’s hero is based on two simple elements. One is Denzel Washington, arguably the finest actor of his generation. The other is Oakley.
“A lot of it has to do with the way Denzel looks in those glasses,” says Hughes. “The frames and the way they were distressed. It was everything, man. It really set that character on fire.”
Hughes and his twin brother Albert have co-directed some of the most revered films of the last two decades, including Menace II Society and Dead Presidents. With The Book of Eli., due in theaters January 15, the Hughes brothers bring to life a post-apocalyptic America, thirty years in the future. Washington was outfitted with HDPolarized Oakley Inmate® sunglasses and an Oakley backpack to achieve the look of a futuristic traveler.
A Visit to Oakley HQ
The original storyboards for the movie showed Eli outfitted with goggle-style headwear, but as Washington began his six-month martial arts training for the film it became evident that the goggles severely hamstrung Washington’s peripheral vision. In search of a solution, Allen Hughes and Washington visited Oakley’s corporate offices in Foothill Ranch, CA. Allen freely admits that Oakley eyewear was never his cup of tea, and he left that day discouraged that nothing he had seen suited his vision for Eli.
“About a month later I was at the house, and by this time Oakley is out of the picture completely,” he says. “So I’m sitting at home and it’s one of those pivotal days when lots of decisions are being made, and suddenly someone drops two boxes in my lap. Beautiful boxes. One says ‘Inmate,’ and one says ‘Felon.®’ So I pull out the Inmates and say, ‘What the f*** are these?!’ I put them on and walked around my house with them on for like three hours.”
Convinced, Allen called Washington to share his excitement and sent the Inmates to his star’s house. After wearing the sunglasses for a brief period and “mugging with them,” Washington agreed and the face of Eli was complete.
“I love, love, love those glasses because they are goggles in a sense,” Allen says. “They totally protect your eyes. You can beat them up but you can’t break those things. I’ve got high profile people asking me about them and I have nothing but positive things to say about them. Great lens, great frame, and they’re made of great material.”
‘Ready for War’
Another critical element of Eli’s look is his backpack, a prominent supporting cast member and the hiding place for both the book Eli carries and the intimidating array of weaponry he uses to protect it. Though the finalists for Eli’s backpack were all impressive, Allen says the Oakley backpack was chosen because it was the most utilitarian and because “it seemed like it was ready for war.”
Allen says the backpack plays a critical role in a scene near the end of The Book of Eli.
“We are very happy and thankful for how aggressive Oakley was,” he says. “They were elegant in the way they went about it. And humble. You would think a company that big would have the grace and diligence. ‘Hey, what do you need? How can I help?’ That’s why it ultimately worked so well for us. The spirit of the company really came through.”
Read more about the Oakley eyewear and backpack featured in The Book of Eli.