The Book of Eli is The Road, were it written by Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort. Simply substitute the kid for a bible, toss in a nasty-looking samurai sword, send the hero west instead of east, and they're pretty much the same movie.
There's one important difference however. The Book of Eli promises hope at the end, a chance for human salvation in the face of devastating circumstances. The Road promises none of that: it tells us that when the apocalypse comes we're all pretty much effed. I'm thinking The Road is the more realistic of the two. (Kirk Cameron would probably disagree.)
In a post-apocalyptic future, Eli (Denzel Washington) has one goal: to carry the last remaining copy of The King James Bible west, trusting in faith that he will find a safe haven for it. (I'm pretty sure that's not a spoiler since even the dimmest audience members will figure out what he's carrying just from watching the commercials.)
Times are tough, as the desolate landscape and the gangs of savage marauders and their sad, wretched victims indicate. Fortunately this prophet has some serious combat skills, which keep him from falling victim to the evils that befall travelers on the road.
Like any good western, even a dystopian one, our hero wanders into a small, lawless town where he ends up having to save himself and one of it's inhabitants (Mila Kunis, who looks way to clean for a world with no shampoo) from the nasty things taking place there. In this case the town is run by the evil but brilliant Carnegie (Gary Oldman), who's after a copy of the Bible believing it can be used to control the hearts and minds of the weak masses.
Needless to say, Eli isn't about to give it up.
When the swords are flying and the stylized action sequences take over, The Book of Eli is a pretty good movie. The fights are well choreographed, and the visuals are impressive. Where the film loses steam is with the Bible that Eli is keeping safe. He reads it every day to the point where he’s got it memorized. He’s heading west because he's "heard" there is a place where it will be kept safe. He guards it with his life and doesn't hesitate to kill to protect it. The problem is that the movie never delves too deep into Eli's connection with the book. The relationship is superficial, making it all seem a little absurd.
For audience members who don’t put a lot of weight on religion, this film will come off as a tad silly and pretentious. For those of you who think the Bible wields awesome power and is capable of both destroying and saving the world, well, this movie was likely made for you, so enjoy. In fact, you'll appreciate the fact that religion is actually treated with respect by Hollywood, not something that happens too often.
Religious overtones aside, The Book of Eli isn't a bad action movie. The stylized violence somewhat makes up for the one-dimensional characters and clichéd storyline. The gloomy atmosphere and sepia-toned surroundings are effective in their bleakness, and the post-apocalyptic wasteland is as depressing as it should be. Unfortunately in the end it all feels kind of empty.
The Book of Eli
- Directed by: Albert Hughes & Allen Hughes
- Written by: Gary Whitta
- Starring: Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis, Jennifer Beals
- Runtime: 118 mins