The Book of Eli Review

Published 5 years ago by

Short version: The Book of Eli is a tough one to call – you may find yourself liking or disliking it based on your particular point of view.

book of eli review The Book of Eli Review
Screen Rant reviews The Book of Eli

The Book of Eli stars Denzel Washington as a lone wanderer, making his away across a post-nuclear holocaust America, scavenging and scraping to survive – and well adept at it. The film opens with a really riveting scene, slowly panning across a wooded area covered in ash, and with more ash still falling from the sky. Here we get our introduction to Eli (Denzel), and a feel for his skills and patience.

Things are desolate and times are desperate – there aren’t a lot of people left alive, and it’s been long enough since the destructive event that anything Eli comes across has already been completely picked over by other people scavenging to survive. We don’t meet anyone else for a while, spending time with Eli alone, and it gives us a feel for his lonely existence.

Eventually he comes to a town run by man named Carnegie (Gary Oldman). Carnegie has been sending out a pack of dirtbag marauders to look for a mysterious book that he believes will give him power. Eli is just passing through but of course we have the required bar fight which brings him to the attention of Carnegie. Carnegie is impressed by Eli’s handling of himself against multiple opponents and wants him to stay – but Eli is on a journey and this is not his final destination. Eli meets Solara (Mila Kunis), who at first is employed to try to get cooperation from Eli based on her, uh, feminine wiles.

Of course it turns out that Eli has the book that Carnegie has been seeking and has no intention of turning it over to be used for evil purposes, and from here on out the story is about Carnegie trying to get the book from Eli, and having a difficult time of it despite seemingly having the upper hand in both manpower and weapons.

I struggled with whether I should mention which book Eli is carrying… Frankly I don’t consider it a spoiler, as it seems to me that it’s obvious, and it’s difficult to talk about the film without talking about the book. But still… if you don’t want to know what the book is, I suggest you stop reading now and skip to the end of the review.






The book is the King James version of the Bible. It seems that for some strange reason, it’s the last existing copy – all copies of it were destroyed and the speculative toss-away reason given in the film bugged me, because it was much more suitable to another religious book.

For an R-rated movie where people are getting chopped up by Denzel and his big honkin’ knife, the film is quite spiritual. It’s kind of an odd combination that the Hughes brothers came up with here… I’m not sure who the audience is for this film. While it has some great action set pieces (Denzel’s first encounter with bad guys was awesome, and just seeing him as a bad-ass in general is great), on the other hand some may consider that the film is proselytizing. So I would think that the bloody, R-rated violence would turn off some Christians who are drawn to spiritual films and the heavy relgious themes might annoy folks who just want to see an action movie.

The film seems to want to say that the Bible (or religion in general) can be used for good or perverted for evil. No argument there, but it seems an odd combination with the post-apocalyptic story line.






Denzel Washington is always great to watch in a role, and Gary Oldman just as much. It was nice to see Ray Stevenson post-Punisher and there some nice cameos by Tom Waits and Michael Gambon (Gambon’s scene is quite funny in a dark way). As cute as Mila Kunis is and as hard as she’s trying, she really doesn’t seem to belong in the same scene as Denzel or Oldman.

Overall the movie feels uneven, like it can’t make up its mind what kind of film it wants to be, or is an unsuccessful merger of two different stories. The first half of the film seems more self-assured and functions as a very good post-apocalypse film – but unfortunately, the movie gets very weak towards the end. And the very end almost seems tacked on from some other film and abrupt. I’ve heard the ending described as a great twist – but to me it seemed like a very disappointing anti-climax. There are things that are left unexplained… like where Denzel gets his awesome martial arts skills and why he’s so hard to kill. Actually it seems the explanation may be spiritual, but that’s speculation on my part – which again some people may like and others may find annoying.

I really went back and forth on this one, trying to decide how I felt about it (I hate it when I can’t make up my mind about a movie). In the end I decided to bump it past the 50% mark for style, effort, Denzel, Oldman and the fact that the first half of the film is really quite gripping. This one is a tough call as far as making a recommendation – if you don’t have a problem with a film where the hero portrays religion in a positive light (barring all the, you know, chopping people to bits) and are a fan of action and the aforementioned actors, you might want to give The Book of Eli a whirl.

If you want to discuss the film in detail, including plot spoilers, head on over to our Book of Eli Spoiler Discussion.

And if you’ve seen it, here’s your chance to rate the film:

[poll id="33"]

Our Rating:

3 out of 5

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  1. That was my take on it.

  2. This movie is not religious so much as it is spritual. And there is a huge difference in the two. I could eaisly see how the Book would be the last one in existance, if whatever caused the descruction of society as we know it was based in religion.
    I'm inclined to think that this movie will be like Passion of the Christ, either you'll love it or you'll hate it. Personally I love it and I would recommend it to everybody.

    • I thought it was GREAT!!!! 5 STARS Lisa

  3. This movie only has 3 stars. this movie was way too good for just three stars.

  4. This movie only has 3 stars. this movie was way too good for just three stars.

  5. the movie is after the tribulation as based on the Bible. read the book of revelations and u will understand. great movie!

  6. Well, I thought that was a spoiler too when I first read it prior to watching the film, but it really isn't. You find out it's a bible fairly early on. There is a twist at the end of the movie, and I won't spoil it for you, but it's pretty unexpected. People say it's pretty far fetched, and it is, but not completely and utterly impossible if you really think back on the things that happened in the movie you'll start to understand some things that you might not have even thought about before…

    I hope nobody gives away that spoiler, leave it for the spoiler discussion thread…

  7. lol it's not a spoiler. what did you think it was? a child's book?

  8. I agree with this review completely. I'm a huge fan of Gary Oldman and he was the real reason I went to go see the movie. And I liked the beginning. But the last hour was a letdown. It really is as if they stitched two movies together. I don't mind the religious parts of the movie, I just wish they were put together better. If it had a better ending, the movie would've been amazing. I still like it but it could have been better.

  9. Thanks for the spoiler moron! without the spoiler alert also…

  10. The reviewer says that there is a strange reason for only one last bible being left in the world. If you watch the movie, he explains why the bibles were destroyed. And if you think about the explanation, it’s a very plausible reason. The reveiwer also says the end was tacked on. Not so, if you watch the movie and really pay attention, you’ll realise that there are reasons as to why the movie ended that way. Obviously, this reviewer and Roger Ebert as well (I’ve read his review as well) didn’t pay attention to the movie’s plot or dialoge and were overcome with the action. It’s sad really that this profound movie has gotten so little recognition and Dances with Wolves in Space (oops! I mean Avatar) has gotten more than it deserves.

      • The reason I found it profound was that even though the bible could’ve used by the wrong hands to create war again, God specifically gave Eli the last remaining bible in the form that only he could read it and the bad guy couldn’t. I’m not saying religion doesn’t cause war. It does, but only because the wrong people take it out of context. To me, God does not condone fighting except as defense. Too many people get overcome with the big stuff that they fail to realize the importance of the small stuff. The crusades were because the christians back then wanted the sight of Jesus’ birth. It wasn’t a war of faith or a war of defense against a threat. They started it, not because the bible told them to, but because they wanted to own his birthplace. That in itself was based on greed alone, not on faith in God and the want to spread his word. The movie made me think, “How was it that the last remaining bible was given to one man to guard? And how was it that the last remaining bible just happened to be in the language only he and people like him could read?” Some say it’s coincidence, but coincidence is when God chooses to remain anonymous. That’s why it was profound to me. It made me think and rethink about everything I thought I knew about God. I thought he just lived in the sky and interfered when he was needed for something big. But, this movie helped me realize that he is always doing miracles, they’re just too small to see.

      • I’m sorry to say, Andrew, that it seems to me that you did not pay that much attention to the movie as well. That maybe you were too engrossed in the whole idea of watching an action flick… I agree with the author of the article that the movie illustrates to the viewer that religion can be perverted and used for either good or evil.

        The one thing in your comment that I disagree with is the idea that religion is the basis of all wars. If you have tried to extend your knowledge about any world religion then you would find that their main message is PEACE…

        Religion is NOT the basis of all wars, POLITICS is…

        • religion has always been about politics from the beginning

  11. Spoiler Alert

    Well you make some interesting and valid comments. However, even though the Bible was made only accessible to the ‘good people’, eventually, once translated it would be widely available. Available to anyone and then it starts over again. Dont you think? Also one could argue that the Bible was made unavailable to the people who needed it the most. The Bad Guys.

    Anyway to provoke such ideas and thoughts the movie must have been better than I initially thought.

    • Yes, the Bible will be made accessible to everyone once again, but that was the whole point of it being written in the first place, to give the words God himself breathed a voice. It was written and made accessible to all peoples of all cultures so they may know the one true God of love and mercy. Yes, people will still pervert it for their own ends, but the Bible isn’t the only wriyyen word perverted for man’s own ends. Think of the Koran being perverted for justifing Jihads. Or the Constitution of the United States being twisted for polititions to justify the immoral things they do. Everything can be perverted for man’s own greed, the Bible is no exception. It’s sad, but it doesn’t deter me from believing in it because I don’t take it out of context. And the people that don’t take it out of context are the ones that can help others see the true meaning of the word of God. At least I like to hope so.

    • Not all wars are for religion some are for resources and others out of hatred and religion is USED as an explanation. When the Indians were killed the Europeans gave far fetched religious reasons. They didn’t really care they just wanted them gone. Also the bad guys COULDNT read WORDS what would make them be able to read Braille??? Maybe it was in braille because whose gonna think of destroying that type of book? A bit more low priority then a normal none ink written book.

      While Im here anyone else thinks he was in the army??

  12. Yes, the Bible will be made accessible to everyone once again, but that was the whole point of it being written in the first place, to give the words God himself breathed a voice. It was written and made accessible to all peoples of all cultures so they may know the one true God of love and mercy. Yes, people will still pervert it for their own ends, but the Bible isn’t the only wriyyen word perverted for man’s own ends. Think of the Koran being perverted for justifing Jihads. Or the Constitution of the United States being twisted for polititions to justify the immoral things they do. Everything can be perverted for man’s own greed, the Bible is no exception. It’s sad, but it doesn’t deter me from believing in it because I don’t take it out of context. And the people that don’t take it out of context are the ones that can help others see the true meaning of the word of God. At least I like to hope so.

  13. Is he Blind? my sister says the person is blind…. but he doesn´t seem to be blind…..

    • BIG SPOILER: yes, he is. it’s confusing, but easier to understand how he’s blind when you look back to the things he did. He knew what the one other blind woman was going through with her blindness. He asked her if she was born blind of if it happened as a result of the nuclear war. As to how he fought whilst blind, he had probably developed a keen hearing. The same reason he could hunt. He listened for the cat’s footsteps and it started making a licking sound when it was eating the bait.

      • I will quote one line directly from the Bible itself in order to give a reason for Eli’s blindness and his triumph over it…

        “I was blind but now I see!” – John 9:25

        If Eli’s blindness isn’t considered a metaphor (particularly for this line) then I don’t know what is…

  14. This is one of the best films I have ever seen. I couldnt stop thinking about it for days after.

    • Spoiler Alert!!

      Well I was the opposite. I thought it was weak and forgetable. The fact that he was blind and it was revealed at the end was nice film move which reminded me of ‘The Sixth Sense’.
      The openning sequence was also good. Other than that forgetable!

  15. wow to all the people who didnt enjoy the movie! this movie was perfect start to end! every word every dialogue! the best part of the movie was when he found out what he used the most from the book! and that is to do unto others youd do to yourself! something along those lines! he actually forgot about that until he gave the book away and thats the reason he GAVE the book away! also he found out that protecting the book wasnt the point the point was to simply spread the word! 5+ stars!

  16. This movie made sense to me – I do agree that the movie seemed to be a bit confused about what type of movie it wanted to be. In the end I still found the movie entertaining. AND – I hate when people say that religion is the cause of all wars!!! It isn’t – most modern wars are almost always based on money and power. I just dont get why people keep thinking otherwise. Unless you are a jihadist I dont know why you think our troops in Iraq or Afghanistan were/are there because of religion.

  17. At first I thought this movie was accurately showing both sides of religion. The side that controls those who are down and depressed. I liked how it showed how damaging religion can be because we see those effects now in many countries, especially in America where conservatives push their “Christian” ideals on those who don’t think like them.

    I also liked how the movie took a story from the Bible and juxtaposed it against religion. It was like religion vs. it’s stories. Jesus vs. the concept of religion; Denzel being Jesus. It showed how, as many others have stated, when you take the stories for the message, you find goodness. People are comforted, as Denzel was to know he had a purpose.

    The ending was a bit unbelievable. It did seem tacked on and not similar to the message. It became overtly religious and it felt like I was being led to an ending and told to accept it rather than giving me the choice to decide and analyze (which all good writing does). I was kind of insulted as the things that were symbolic or metaphorical were plainly told to me as if I couldn’t figure them out. I liked the concept of showing both sides of religion but I did not buy Dezel being blind then Solara, because she has heard the “word” she now feels invincible too. She’s like his new Jesus warrior he trained. Too Christian for me.


    • Jewels,

      Yes, yes, damn those “evil” Christians with their contributions to charity, helping the impoverished, etc.

      No mention of Islam, I see in your little anti-religion rant. Nothing bad coming from there.


  18. You didn’t mention it so i’m wondering. Did you realise that Eli was in fact blind?
    - waiting for the cat to call in the start.
    - feeling around for things
    - shooting men only after they shot at him

    • How about every time he flicked the lighter he put his hand over the top to feel the flame?

  19. The Book of Eli could have been called Eli’s Redemption. Biblically the first Eli failed miserably to rebuke man -his own sons- priests, ministers for exploiting the Lords Word. Though the first Eli did speak against his son’s sins, he did not remove them from their place of authority as church leaders. They were desecrating the Word of God, using it for their own power, greed and pleasure. For this Eli’s house was cursed. So we see the new Eli…intent and on a mission. He will not allow Gods Word to be put into the hands of one who will misuse it this time. He will do whatever it takes to protect it from “evil” intents and purposes. Like the first Eli, his eyesight is failing…perhaps a symbol of how man blindly turns his head from the sins of men who use Gods Word to enslave the poor and ignorant. The fact is we can’t see truth with our eyes, we can only see it with our heart, mind and soul. This Eli is lead by God and though he does not always do the right thing, Like helping those people who were being attacked, nor does he always take the right road, like going into town to charge his IPod, the Lord watches over him, protects him not only forgiving these human failures but using them to serve a greater good and purpose for all. After all Eli is not God, he is a man who is not perfect in his love or life. In the end, Eli redeems himself, and reverses the first Eli’s curse as well as giving all man a second chance to serve God in love, with love …the one true and right love.

  20. Okay – the blindness makes sense more if you remember his first encounter with those cannibal-road-vandal-dudes. He said he could smell them. At the time it just seemed like banter – but I guess he could actually smell them!

    Someone commented that perhaps he was in the army – he was wearing dog tags.

    They also referred to the event that destroyed everything as “the flash” – I suppose a hint at why so many were blind.

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned the Biblical story of Elijah and his protege Elisha. The main character is named Eli (often shorthand for Elijah- which means “YHWH (The God of Israel) is my God”. Upon Elijah’s death (well, not really a death – he’s swept into heaven) his protege Elisha is given a “double portion of his spirit” and continues his work. Kinda like how Mila picked up Denzel’s work (forgot character’s names…so sue me). In fact Eli’s prayer at the end asks for God’s protection over her as God had protected him.

    Really enjoying everyone comments by the way. Everyone has been thoughtful and courteous! Thanks

    • He wasn’t wearing dog tags, it was a cross of some sort. He kisses it while changing in one part.

  21. This is just my personal opinion and contribution to the discussion.

    I just saw Book of Eli yesterday (I’m late, I know) and being an atheist I was still quite intrigued by this one.

    First of all I’d like to comment on the “because it was much more suitable to another religious book.” phrase in your review. It seems to me that you missed the total absence of any religion in the movie. What I took from the “toss away reason” why all bibles were burnt was that it didn’t only refer to Holy Bibles but to all religious books. How I understood it was that religious beliefs had finally climaxed into a nuclear war (which quite obviously had happened), after which all religions were exterminated. The post-apocalyptic generation did not know about God or religion, but the older “beards” still knew about it (yes, I know it’s weird how one generation knows about it and the next one is completely ignorant, but I’ll live with it).

    Also, I absolutely loved how the movie completely and perfectly illustrated the two sides of any religion in general. Denzel’s character showed how religion can give strength and conviction to one person in the amounts that he can carry out near impossible to complete tasks. However, religion can also be used as a weapon to control the weak and hopeless in order to gain power.

    The movie had obviously a strong bias towards defending religion (Christianity in particular) and personally I was somewhat disappointed with the ending (although I guessed what was coming already while watching the movie). But then again, one might look at the ending in a different way. The noble quest on which the protagonist was on was actually only the beginning to a new round of religion fueled hatred which could eventually end up in another apocalypse…

    I suppose this movie is a love-hate piece of work. You either hate it for it’s religious point of view, or you love it for it…. Or then you are like me and just enjoy it due to it’s depth and metaphorical meanings… =)

  22. I just saw it–I’m always the late one. Maybe it benefited, for me, from not being preceded by tons of other post-apocalyptics…

    I really loved it. The violence was a downside for me (though well done). But I’m a sucker for what post-apocalyptic situations reveal about human nature. The Western tropes in this movie made perfect sense to me: the Wild West that Westerns depict was, at least in places, a fairly horrible, largely lawless situation, in which violent people struggled for control, might made right, and the innocent were always at risk… which is exactly what would happen again, after “the Flash.” We see what a horrible situation it is for women, as it would be. We see how common decency is optional, and in fact can take heroic efforts to maintain… I think the scene that moved me most was when Eli taught Solara how to sit down at a table and eat with another person, and how to give thanks before eating… and then Solara taught her mother. Such a taken-for-granted thing in our world, against that bleak backdrop it shines out like a dropped fragment of gold.

    Seems like I also found the ending more nuanced than a lot of people have.

    ENDING SPOILERS COMING. If anyone’s even reading this, so long after the movie came out!

    So yes, Eli brings the Book to the white-haired guy on Alcatraz, and the white-haired guy prints it. As Eli approaches Alcatraz he calls out “I have a King James Bible in my possession!” After the printing you see the Bible being shelved between the Koran and the Torah. (Incidentally I found it unrealistic how rich and varied the bindings were! One printing press left in the world and you can do that kind of work? I would have expected to see generic paperbacks… but of course it would have been a letdown visually.) As someone rightly pointed out, the Torah contains the first five books of Moses, so they already had those–but as someone else rightly pointed out, they did not have them in King James, and the King James version of the Bible contains some of the greatest poetic language that exists in English, and is a priceless cultural artifact no matter what one’s beliefs.

    There are some interesting ambiguities here that seem very real, and seem like they should be understandable and acceptable to believers and non-believers alike. White-Haired Guy is not religious. He never once gives any hint of being so, but instead speaks of his mission to preserve and renew culture, civilization, learning. He is interested in any of the great books, and holy books are obviously important on that list; and Eli (who seems to already know everything, via God’s voice, or maybe they skipped some scene where someone in SF explains to him about Alcatraz) tells him right away that the Bible is King James, which would make him even more interested given its poetry & its importance to English-speaking culture. Eli is definitely religious; he believes in the voice of God that he hears, he believes in his mission, he believes in the importance and holiness of the Book and in living by “what he gets from it.” He and White-Haired Guy are aware, I think, of having differing points of view. It doesn’t matter; on this they are in agreement: this book must be preserved. Very realistic; very satisfying… and it gives almost any viewer a point of view to identify with. As a Christian who loves literature, I could identify with both impulses, and in addition I really respect and appreciate the impulse of a non-Christian who would want the Bible preserved simply as a work of literature even though to them its content seems questionable and often false… and I can’t understand at all the perspective of someone who would truly want it destroyed. I don’t want the Koran destroyed. Even though I do think its content questionable and sometimes false. I’m told that in the original classical Arabic it’s beautiful beyond description. It also says God is “closer to you than your jugular vein.” That’s beautiful and true. Who could want it destroyed, who could want the 23rd Psalm destroyed?

    Finally, this movie also witnesses to the other impulse people can have regarding the Bible: to use it to control people, to take “the words” and use them for their beauty and power as weapons, tools to “inspire” people… to do exactly what the leaders want. I found that theme so interesting. And also true. It’s a danger. And it happens. We have to do whatever we can against it.

    Given this richness and ambiguity in its treatment of the Book, I can’t understand people who see “fundamentalism” in this movie or who see it as some kind of unapologetic evangelical tract. Of course, I can’t see from their point of view. But to think that there’s nothing of value in Eli’s quest–not even what the man on Alcatraz sees in it… if nothing that is potentially dangerous should be preserved, if nothing that can ever be used for evil should be preserved, that means that nothing of beauty and power should be preserved. People also use love for their children as a reason and excuse for wars. Should that be destroyed as well?

    Alright, I didn’t mean to write an essay. But having written it I suppose I’ll post!

  23. I would say, after reading something such as the Bible everyday, for 40 years, you would come to know a good portion in your heart. Especially if you’re passionate about something, it makes remembering that much easier.

    • having just seen this movie last night here in sydney, I read all of these reviews and have enjoyed the stimulation… it’s all been said, so I won’t elaborate, other than to say Denzel was the right choice to play Eli. Weirdly enough, I found it moving to hear him quoting the opening verses of Genesis, as well as the ‘grace’ thing with Solaro… Remember joni Mitchell? (“you don’t know what you’ve got, ’til it’s gone…”)

      if entertainment is intended – in it’s purest form – to make us think and re-think, this did it… not the best movie of all times, but it did its bit for the artform…

  24. I just saw this movie last night on Australian TV and was pleasantly surprised. I loved Mila Kunis in this – I’m sure pretty people exist after an apocalypse, lol. Loved Eli’s fight sequences, and didn’t catch on about this condition until the end, which is good because I’ll just go and watch it again now!

  25. This review appears to be written by a 12 year old, judging by its grammer and choice of words.