The Book of Eli Review

Published 4 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.

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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.

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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
(Good)

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TAGS: 3 star movies, the book of eli

105 Comments

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  1. nice review :D
    i can picture wesley snipes as eli, due to the martial arts scenes (feels like blade)
    whats your opinion, could snipes have been the protagonist ?

    P.S its not out yet here in australia :(

  2. I don't think Snipes would have worked in the role, no. Denzel has a quiet, peaceful strength about him that was perfect for the role. Snipes looks to aggressive – wouldn't have fit.

    Vic

  3. “if you don’t have a problem with a film where the hero portrays religion in a positive light”

    Heh, I kind of find that as sad commentary, you know? Afterall, we can't be having the hero be doing that in this day and age, can we?

    It does seem as though the “christian” aimed movies try to acquire mainstream credibility through an overdose of violence, don't they? That too is sad commentary.

  4. Couldn't agree more, Aaron.
    As one of the (seemingly) few young people who believes in God these days I often find the increasingly negative portrayal of religion in media to be unsettling.
    So a character believes in God. You can be religious and not be a right-wing evangelical wackadoo, you know. Just look at Shepherd Book from Firefly.
    But alas it seems to be more in vogue to portray religion as some kind of demon.

  5. Hmmmm, good review, but I am curious as to how the religous theme itself is promoted, being an Atheist and all…

  6. I seriously doubt that a King James version of the Bible would be the last one left. Worldwide best seller, extant in many translations, printed in the billions, and all that's left is one King James?

    Yeah right.

    As for a message about religion being able to be perverted to evil ends? We only have to look at our history to see that men do evil without needing religion to justify it. The will to power is all the reason they need.

    A more amusing premise would have been if Goldman was seeking to find all the Bibles in the world in order to destroy them in order to have no one appealing to a higher authority than his own. It has historical precedent inasmuch as Diocletian had the same idea as did Stalin et al. Of course it would be a lousy basis for an action movie, because while Christians died to protect their Bibles, they didn't take up arms to defend them (IIRC). There's a proverb which says “the Church is an anvil that has worn out many hammers.”

    Oldman's character needs a slave to walk behind him and whisper in his ear “Respice post te! Hominem te memento!”

  7. I'm not a religious man, but it having a religious plot doesn't bother me one bit. I really want to see this film.

  8. I THINK someone just gave away the spoiler in the comments, I'm not 100% sure because I stopped reading it when I thought he might be saying something about the movie.

    Anyway, I've been looking forward to this movie for a while now mainly because of Ray Stevenson, so I'm pretty disappointed that this one has been getting fairly poor reviews. Hopefully he'll have better luck with Thor…

    I'm probably going to watch this anyhow, the last movie I saw was Daybreakers, and there's no way this one is worse than that movie… Well, not going to say I wasn't entertained by Daybreakers, but it simply was a pretty cheesy movie…

  9. I don't see anything wrong with that statement. Some people don't want to be slapped in the face with overly religious themes.

    To me

    “if you don’t have a problem with a film where the hero portrays religion in a positive light”

    Is just the same as saying if you don't mind films with a female hero or if you don't mind action pop corn films. An Atheist may not want to have god shoved down their throat. They have just as much right to not want to see the film as a christian does to flock to Passion of the Christ. I think it's more of a sad commentary when religious people get upset that not everyone follows their religion.

  10. I'm interested in just how religious it is. I have no problem with a religious theme or undertone, but I don't want to feel like I'm being preached at. Is that how it comes off or is it a little more subtle than that?

  11. Religion is power and everyone know that. Does the movie explain why the world is in a apocalypse state ?

  12. Is Daybreakers really bad? The only interest I have in watching is that Sam Neill is in it..

  13. That is exactly how I feel. If it is the whole religion will be our saviour because of the Bible kinda angle, then I will give it a miss.

  14. Well, it was OK, but probably not worth the cost of a theater ticket in my opinion, but entertaining to watch anyway. Here are the things I didn't like about it.

    This isn't a spoiler because it's in the trailers, but they find a “cure” to the vampire thing. And the process for the cure is pretty preposterous if you ask me. It really makes little to no sense as to how that would cure a vampire, but anyway. The gore in the movie was pretty cheesy, and the way it ends leaves a lot to be desired. There was also a lot of plot points that are kind of against logic. And the “climax” of the movie involved this weird “killing orgy” that was just downright comedic to watch even though it wasn't intended that way…

    Let's just say there were a lot more laughing during the movie than the movie makers intended. Which is kind of a bad thing, but not really since we're still having a good time watching it even though not in the way the movie makers intended. Despite some of the comedic one-liners, the movie took itself seriously, and I think it would have twice the movie it was if it didn't. But that's just my opinion. I say if you're interested in it, go watch it, just don't expect anything remarkable.

  15. Afraid of a little bit of conviction? :)

  16. How do people NOT KNOW WHAT THIS IS ABOUT???? The clues are everywhere…

  17. Haven't seen the movie yet. But I have read your comments along with the “input” from other readers. I see the point of each comment. Maybe I can point out a direction to take into consideration: A generation of people are currently being raised to “Question Authority.” Since it has appeared to me over the past several decades that the Bible (including many of the deleted books) are hardly every questioned except by the professed Atheist, what's the easiest way for evil to hide? Beside hiding their numbers, they hide behind the “authority” of the Bible. It's even been rumored that Satan has already infiltrated the Church; and Oldman's character may be trying show that he alone cannot continue to rule much longer, but desires that last book he refers to as a weapon, to be the “Authority” that he can stand behind, as his new source of power to maintain his grip over the “serfs.” (If you are wondering how I came up with this without seeing the movie? It's in the tone of nearly everyone's comments on this page.) There are ONLY two kinds of people on this planet: “Value Producers” and “Usurpers.” Who do you think Oldman's character is?

  18. Thank you for an honest, fair-minded review, Vic. I don't come across too many reviews nowadays where the reviewer actually takes a step back and is objective on why a film might get a subjective response from viewers. Downright refreshing!

    I personally find it a bit saddening that a film which DOESN'T present a main character with beliefs in a condescending way would throw up red flags for people. Saddening, though not surprising. It's the same reason why a film with such a character would elicit a more subjective response first without considering whether it fits with the story as a whole.

    Which I guess is a question I have, Vic: does that element actually fit in well with the story as a whole, or does it feel sort of tacked on?

    I get the impression if Denzel's character “fit” than even people cautious of his character's beliefs might find that respectable enough of a reason to see the film.

  19. I remember this type of discussion for the finale of Battlestar Galactica and people getting upset with the religious/God overtones.
    You know what, whether you believe in God or not, why cannot we accept a fictional story (Battlestar, Eli, etc.) that uses religion to drive the story. Is it so wrong to accept? Lost uses religion heavily doesn't it?
    It is just a film and if it uses religion in a positive light, so what, just accept it. I am pretty sure “The Book of Eli” of all things is not going to change you.
    I listen to Tool, yet I know of Maynard's stance on religion. I listen to Gary Numanen, yet I know how much he hates God and all his songs are against God.
    Yet I am God fearing Christian. No, not someone like Pat Robertson, I'm not insane.

    Just food for thought.
    As for this film, I'll watch anything from the Hughes Brothers. I really enjoyed From Hell, yes I know it was not like the comic, but judged by itself, it is a really good murder mystery.

  20. I heard of this fictional book that uses religion to drive its story, what's it called again??????????

  21. This wouldn't be the first reviewer who is puzzled over the intended audience of this film. Our reviewer nailed the contradictions in it. The Bible, a Christian religious book, as the salvation of the world through peace and tolerance. Yet the film is wrapped in a delicious candy coating of violence and blood. On the surface, it seems like a film intended to appeal to right-wing Christians. And indeed, all the ones I know are eager as all get out to see it, and these are people who tend to see Christianity as a Republican franchise. These are also people who tend to see themselves as oppressed warriors battling an evil world to bring truth into it–and if they have to lop off a few heads for Jesus, well, they didn't start the fight. It seems like it's pandering to those fantasies. More than a few of the Christians I know see The Book of Eli as an antidote to Avatar. Whatever our approach to Christianity, however, the film has a strong cast and even if the script is muddled, performances are likely to be interesting. Anything with Denzel and Oldman is worth watching. I'll wait a couple of weeks to see what audience reactions are before paying full price. I can't help but wonder though, what would audience reactions be if the book Denzel was carrying was…the Koran?

  22. In a way I agree with you, as there are some (definitely not all) Christians who would respond to a film like this with such superficiality solely because it doesn't present a religiously-minded character in a negative light. At the same time, though, a person doesn't need to have religious beliefs to be given a superficial reason for doing something, going to a certain kind of film or otherwise. That's just the mindset of the masses and public consumption of what people like.

    In the same way, a person who loves 3D movies may go to Avatar and be in awe of the 3D while forgiving the basic storyline. That doesn't mean we need to use those people as an occasion to make the kind of movie they see as a broader parallel for who all such movie-goers are as people. That's just in poor taste when you do that. The reasons may be superficial, but it's still solely a basis of like-dislike. I'm not saying I AGREE WITH that system, but it's often the default mode for your average person, whether they have religious beliefs or none.

  23. It's not really in your face, it's more of a personal thing for Denzel's character. But being biased (I'm a Christian), I don't know how it might come across to athiests.

  24. Having it be the last one WAS a stretch as a plot point, yes. And there's another aspect to it that I won't mention that makes it even more of one.

  25. Daniel,

    It depends on how sensitive you are to it. I know there are a lot of (sorry, but I feel justified using this word) rabid anti-Christians online and any whiff sends them into spasms.

    I don't think it's preachy or slam you over the head, but as I said above, I'm biased.

    Vic

  26. Felix,

    The film never explains what happened, no.

  27. i probably have to watch the movie to know what you mean by “quiet” and “peaceful”, or do you mean overall acting type ?

    if the movie is as violent and brutal/graphic as you claim then i dont see how snipes would be “to aggressive”

    both snipes and washington are favs for me but i prefer snipes due to his history with martial arts :D

  28. histeachn,

    Denzel's character totally fits the story – he IS the story.

    Vic

  29. Dianetics.

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