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.
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:
What did you think of The Book of Eli?
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