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. Peetawonkus,

    Nice analysis. If you want to know details about the film, at the end of my review I posted a link to a spoiler thread where people can discuss the film freely.

  2. Cool, good to know. I'm prepared for there to be weak elements in the story as a whole, but it's nice to hear Denzel was at least able to handle the precarious balance of elements on the character end of things, even if the broader story doesn't quite so well. I realize this is called The Book of ELI, but some movies that depend on a single character to carry the story don't always work. Glad this one does, especially given the themes played around with.

    Am I fair in saying that this is another case in films where the actor(s) do a better job conveying themes than the story itself?

  3. No, that wasnt it!

  4. I might go and see this next week, mainly because DW is one of the most dependable actors working today, and also because Mila Kunis…Oh yes. Tasty.

  5. After I read a couple of quite negative reviews this is actually the first one that makes me feel like I should see this movie (the “if you like Denzel Washington etc.”-part) (thanks for that btw).

    I'm just expecting a nice action movie and I think religion as a motive is better than the often used my-girl-has-been-kidnapped-so-I-got-to-free-her-and-kill-everyone-who's-standing-in-my-way story

  6. Heh. I know what book you're aiming at, Dr., but I think you've got to admit Dianetics is one such system of beliefs that fits the criteria you give pretty well. Whether the other book you're referring to does the same is a whole other rabbit trail.

    Rabbit trail in itself, I'm liking the “Reply” system in comments now. Fits well with the flow and focus of the website.

  7. Denzel does great in the fight scenes, and think David Carradine in Kung Fu instead of Blade in my description above. :)

  8. I have been waiting for this movie for a year now. I am certain i will enjoy this film becasuse i dont recall ever watching Mr. Washington and not liking it. He is a fairly good actor and so im sure his performance will not be the reason to dislike this movie. I can only assume that the story might be a convoluted and thus causing people to make their own assumptions as to the meaning the film intended to make. And if this is the case, then my guess would be accurate as to why some people would review it poorly. Im glad that screen rant gave it a fair enough review stating that it depends on the type of movie watcher you are. Im going to check this out on Sunday.

  9. Well in this story the character is the sole conveyor of the theme.

  10. Yes, I know. Instead of getting aggravated by your comment I thought I'd deflect it with some humor.

  11. Well I wasnt trying to aggravate, but in all fairness what principal differences are there between say Dianetics, and the book I was refering too? Not after a fight or anything, just healthy debate as always.

  12. Gotcha. I'll just focus on Denzel for the point of the movie. Maybe that'll make me cringe less at the uneven points that become more glaring towards the end.

  13. To risk adding a possible answer, if the “Basic Concepts” section of the Wikipedia site for Dianetics is something to use for general reference here, I'd actually say that Dianetics seems to have more in common with Buddhism than the book you're referring to. That makes it kind of tricky since Buddhism actually has many different printed texts that vary according to the interpretations of Buddha's teachings, which didn't have one definitive book of teachings like the book-in-question.

    That's not to change the focus from that one book, but the concepts guiding Dianetics just jumped out as a more fitting counter-point when held alongside Buddhism. Still, Dianetics seems to do more to worship the mind than the focus of the book-in-question, though there are definitely believers who ultimately just worship their knowledge of the book . . . but I think self-worship isn't a risk exclusive to religion.

    That would be the most glaring difference in my opinion between the two books.

  14. I agree.

  15. I'm interested to see it – I think it's ballsy to have a film have religious overtones in it and be an action movie. When they look at how an apocalyptic world can be overcome by either the perversion or good will due to the teachings of a religious book, it makes sense. Sounds like there's an inkling of The Stand thrown in. I mostly want to see it because of Gary Oldman and Denzel.

    Actually, it's interesting that there are two “religion-action” movies out around the same time. As long as it's used to forward a plot and tell a story, I'm all for it. And maybe my atheist friends will come with me to see it – considering that most of my friends are…lol

  16. “Well I wasnt trying to aggravate”

    I call BS. Why else would you have said it?

  17. Heh, I just got in a fight about Avatar because I “spoiled” for someone that Sigourney Weaver was in the movie. That just hit me right in the stupid…

    PEOPLE – If it's in the trailer, IT'S NOT A SPOILER! <snicker>

  18. I think the point is that religion and religious people are more often than not portrayed in movies as either 1)evil and manipulative or 2)crazy. So having a hero who is also religious definitely varies from the norm.

    Also regarding the review's considering the last bible as strange, I think that it is a reference to the time (i'm fuzzy on the date but I think it was around 300bce?) that there was considered only one copy of the bible left before it was mass copied in order to preserve it. In the context of a post-apo world where not much is left in general, I could see how this could happen with little explanation.

  19. I disagree with you there. Snipes has aged and can play the silent role most notably in a film called Sugar Hill. Im sure Denzel did a decent job in the action scenes, but u can't deny Snipes adding that extra something to it with his martial experience and skill.

  20. I'm not to sensitive toward the subject I was just wondering if it was an undertone or Passion of the Christ

  21. hehe we think the same, and sorry vic i havent seen David Carradine before (until i just imdb searched him)
    guess i'll just have to watch it to know what you mean.

    btw how graphic is it, could you compare it to something for me

  22. I'm not a very religious person, but I still disagree with your, Daniel. I don't think a film with religious themes is, by ANY means, slapping you in the face with it or “shoving god down your throat.” If you want to get offended by a movie's theme (that definitely didn't send a message that you should believe in god), that's your problem. But if I watched a movie that had themes of Atheism, without telling the audience that religion is the cause of all our problems, I wouldn't get all pissy about it. God was incorporated into this story, yes, but did you see the ending? It had nothing to do with religion being any kind of answer to anything.

    I hate to generalize, but I find that a lot of the people who didn't like this movie for religious reasons all use the same rationale about being preached to. To be so narrow-minded and one-sided is ridiculous. I'd be willing to bet that you have no problem with Zeitgeist, The Movie, correct? That film is 100x more preachy than The Book of Eli, yet because it doesn't show religion or Christianity in a positive light, I'm sure it's A-okay. Of course, I'm definitely making big assumptions here, so I apologize for that. But with the people I've come in contact with so far, it's been consistent. Do you really think that religious people here are getting upset that not everyone follows their religion? Really? It's more upsetting that so many people can be dismissive of a film because it has god in it.

    No, I do not go to church. I just think that modern society is too quick to condemn anything that has god in it, just because it has god in it. I don't expect your minds to be changed here, because I've also notice (yes, big generalization here) that Atheists are as stubborn as mindless evangelicals, even when they call themselves 'freethinkers'. But I'm still hoping to make my point.

  23. Amen.

  24. Just to help clear up the date issue: the Bible was not mass copied in 300 bce; there was no “Bible” in 300 bce. There was known and studied scriptures, even written copies of the Torah, but there was obviously no New Testament b/c Jesus hadn't come along yet. And the New Testament makes up a lot of the Bible.

  25. Too much like a Mad Max/The Road rip off.
    Think I'll wait for Mad Max 4 and The Road then.

  26. Most movies have a combo of some sorts. Most Post-apocalyptic movies have all of walking around & people trying to find meaning. It's all how it ends in the end that matters. The movie The Book Of Eli was very good. You'll get a kick out it.

  27. INK, you hit the nail right on the head. Though I did not see the flick yet. I think it will be a good movie.

  28. watched the movie the other night, and i got to say you where right, denzel suits the role, because he seems more spiritual in movies as opposed to snipes and his hardcore attitude (he plays mostly in action movies)

    denzel was great, but there should have been more back story about not just him but the other characters

  29. I agree with Vic. To me, the movie wasn't about aggression. It was about a man with a calling from God to carry his Word; therefore I think this was better portrayed by the “quite, peaceful strength” of Denzel, rather than the agressive Snipes