January 15, 2010


I loves me a good western and The Book of Eli fits the bill.  Don’t let the post-apocalyptic setting fool you; The movie opens on a shot of a six-shooter, the main character (Denzel Washington) is headed west and doesn’t reveal his name until the end of the movie (thus making him that old west archetype, “The Stranger”*), an old saloon, and other trademarks of the western genre along the way.  But the post-apocalyptic setting provides a nice twist by removing almost all modern technology except for a heavy arsenal of weapons…and an iPod.  The Hughes Brothers have made a well-shot, well-edited, and exciting film, but it also features a very heavy-handed religious message.  It’s a hurdle, but The Book of Eli manages to clear it.

The Book Of Eli movie Denzel Washington (1).jpgEli impressed me right out the gate by having no dialogue for almost the first ten minutes of the movie.  By the end, we know almost everything we need to about the Stranger and the world he inhabits.  The stranger walks through the beige deserts and crumbled cities of what used to be our country (the look of the film called to mind the videogame Fallout 3), but remnants of modern civilization remain. The Stranger is an excellent survivalist, and he shows off a resourcefulness that seems obvious yet it’s rare in the post-apocalypse.  When he goes into an empty house, he’s careful.  He always runs the faucets to see if there’s the slightest chance of water.  In the speechless opening of the film, he discovers a person who has hanged himself.  Rather than walking away from a tragic moments, the Stranger does what is necessary and checks the dead man’s pockets and then takes his shoes.  Washington has such gravitas that the character’s scavenging feels more like stoic pragmatism.  Later, there’s a scene where the Stranger’s actions (or inaction) is almost unforgivable but the Hughes frame it in such a way that we no longer question the character’s commitment to his mission, but understand he still has humanity.  It’s a difficult balancing act, but Washington and the Hughes make sure we’re on the character’s side because we can appreciate him beyond his ability to kill enemies ten times before they hit the ground.

However, that is entertaining to watch and after showing off his finishing moves to a group of unlucky highwaymen (like in the western, the hero’s fighting ability is never in question), the Stranger eventually arrives in a shanty town run by a man named Carnagie (Gary Oldman) who just so happens to be looking for the book the Stranger is carrying.  Following an fast-paced but well-cut action scene where the Stranger slices up a room full of people trying to kill him, Carnagie offers the Stranger the appealing job of being a henchaman.  Stranger isn’t interested but stays the night as a guest/prisoner.  Carnagie tempts him with his blind lover’s daughter, Solara (Mila Kunis), but the Stranger, being a soft-spoken noble warrior, refuses her advances and instead they share a meal where the Stranger says grace.

The Book of Eli movie image Denzel Washington and Mila Kunis.jpgThat’s when it’s clear that the book is the Bible.  Carnagie wants to use it as a weapon to control the hearts and minds of the remaining populace, while the Stranger presumably wants to use it as a force for good and there’s something out west that will allow him to do it.  I know it seems like I’m dodging spoilers when this isn’t a mindfuck of a movie, but it’s more enjoyable to let it open up, especially since the previews have sold it more as a standard post-apocalyptic action flick.

And the action does not disappoint, and neither do the performances, cinematography, and overall direction.  They all need to click together because the movie gets very preachy, to the point where it’s a little uncomfortable.  Personally, I found it a little funny as I kept thinking of Patton Oswalt’s “Sky Cake” bit from his latest album, “My Weakness Is Strong” (in short, people do good things because they believe when they die they’ll get to go up in the clouds and eat all the cake they want; religious wars happen when there’s disagreement about what type of baked good await in the afterlife).  But the heavy reliance on “Christianity will save the world,” does raise the question of why new myths don’t just replace established religion.  Carnagie and the Stranger are significantly older than everyone else so they’re among the few literate people in the world, but before Christianity, cultures had religion; they just didn’t write it down.  It was an oral tradition used more as a way to explain the outside world rather than a user’s manual for why you should be good to your fellow man (“Sky cake!”).  It doesn’t make sense why Carnagie can’t just make up a new religion and use that to control the people.  Maybe it’s because the character has no charisma and no depth. Gary Oldman has played some great villains in his time and he’s wasted here.

But on the whole, The Hughes Brothers have created a solid western and done so in a clever fashion by putting it beneath the guise of a post-apocalyptic wasteland.  It’s a confident film that trusts the story its telling and how it’s being told.  If you don’t mind the promotion of extreme measures resulting from blind faith, then you should show some thanks to The Book of Eli for being an exciting, well-made, clever film. Blessed be the western. Amen.

Rating —– B

*IMDb gives the character’s name, but the movie doesn’t strongly hint at it until halfway through and then only confirms it in the last ten minutes or so.  If you think my referring to the character as “The Stranger” is lame, too bad.

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  • NightAvatar

    As much as I love Denzel, I *hate* preachy feeling movies. Avatar was even too preachy for me but the worst I've seen was Prince Caspian – believe it or not even worse than the first Narnia.

  • [A]

    So apparently is good! I will be checking it out in theaters, then..

    Good review

  • Sarah

    I was pleasantly surprised. I plan on seeing it again because the revelation which occurs at the end makes me want to go back and look for clues.

  • Brandon Avery

    Thank you for spoiling the movie saying the the BOOK is the bible! Thanks alot!!!

  • Steve Capell

    I had already planned on seeing The Book of Eli. My only hesitation of seeing this movie was who directed this movie (Albert and Allen Hughes). The Hughes brothers are not my favorite directors … or I should say I am not a real fan of most of their previous films they have directed, but for some reason The Book of Eli seemed intriguing to me and I love Denzel Washington as an actor so yesterday I went to see this GREAT movie. I will not ruin the plot … but I really enjoyed the overall plot and the fantastic ending. The cinematography was fantastic and the music that this movie brought to the screen is magnificent. I will want to add the music soundtrack to my library. OK … what could be better … the beginning of this film seemed to me to not come together not as fast as it should. After about ten minutes into the film I was wondering ok what is the reason … why am I here … where is the beginning? This is the only thing I can fault this movie on ant that is the “Not so GREAT beginning.” This movie is well worth seeing and I am glad I spent the time to see Denzel Washington’s performance. I truly believe that he should get an Oscar nomination. One last comment … I now have a movie that I truly love that has been directed by Albert and Allen Hughes. One final comment … it is very refreshing to see a movie on the big screen that at least acknowledges that there is a God that cares for mankind.

  • dharmashaiva

    The reason Carnegie didn't make up a new religion, is likely due to the fact that the religions that survive, are those that were not “made up”.

  • kenzie_20

    this movie is so amazing. i was left with tears at the end. i do not understand how people can say it was terrible. they are too stubborn about the whole religious thing. to me it wasnt “too preachy” not at all. i think people have a problem with that but i do not at all but if you dont waste your time on that then you can truely enjoy this wonderful movie. denzel is simply terrific in this. and the message is so powerful. and the ending is ..well speachless. go and enjoy this movie.

  • Man

    The movie was GENIUS! PURE GENIUS! In my opinion, a person with an intellectual/artistic mind could not dislike this movie. I have no idea how anyone could think it was a bad movie except for the beginning part. I do agree the beginning was a bit slow. The symbolism and significances of certain aspects of the movie and even the plot itself was just incredible. The ending gave me goosebumps.. WOW go watch it!

  • kenzie_20

    man.. you said it.

  • junierizzle

    It's pretty obvious what the book is. Plus they don't try and make it this big reveal kinda thing.

  • junierizzle

    I liked it. I thought it could have used more action. But maybe that was because the trailer made it seem like an action movie. I think Gary Oldman could have had more to his character. I do see people either hating it or thinking its comical. The ending was interesting and gave the film more depth. I'd check it out.

  • steve1138

    I saw it again today, I love this movie. I thought the pacing was great, not too slow at first because it had to flesh out the world he lived in. And I just don't get this religious backlash, if anything or anyone even mentions the bible then it so called preachy? come on! Thats an over reaction, and besides the story offered a balance to what the book could do, be for good or used as a weapon, look around you thats exactly how it is used today. There are all kinds of stories out there that get rerun over and over, this was different for a change. For once, I didn't see the resolution to the story coming 20 minutes into the flick and all the characters were well fleshed out.Excellent job!

  • Robin

    there seems to be a sort of paradox at the end…Eli is shaved and clothed in what appears in a more Islamic manner, and the dictating of the Book…not unlike the belief of the origins of The Koran. the word of Allah is believed to been dictated the same way. now interestingly earlier in the film , he refers to the belief in the Book in his possession as the cause of the war. he starts the dictation with genesis, but we dont hear the rest. The Book when completed is labled The Holy Bible, King James version…and placed beside the Koran. Lots of subliminal issues here…would love to hear the director and writers thoughts on these.

  • gotaquestionforu

    Hey I have one question. Is Denzel Washington's character blind in this movie? I did not pick up on it but a friend of mine insists that he is. Just wondering what you thought?

  • Pat

    I dont believe the movie was preachy at all. Washingtons character didnt care in the least about preaching to people and never did it in the film. None of what he believed was forced down the throat of any character or even the audience. All the lives taken in the film on the part of Washingtons character were taken out of a need for survival. Its also apparent from what you say in your review that you are among the many people today that have lost all understanding of what relegion really is! Whether you approve of it, or practise it, is one thing but everyday I hear more and more people say the stupidist, most poorly thought out views on religion, that is almost like it has become a thing completely alien to them. I was born and brought up a catholic however, I at the moment I am not a practising one although I do believe in god. The idea of people doing good things ONLY because they think theyll eventually get their hands on “skypie” is laughable, childish and idiotic in the extreme. It is strange indeed to see people such as yourself over react in such a way to the theme of this film and religion in general.

  • NightAvatarisaJACKASS!

    Funny things is… Avatar was too preachy for you, so why the hell do you even identify or associate with the word “avatar” in your username.

  • NightAvatar

    YOU are a jackass, moron. “NightAvatar” refers to the Nickelodeon cartoon called “Avatar” which aired YEARS ago, before anybody ever heard of James Cameron's movie with the same name. That should be obvious if you look at my avatar, there is a picture of the main character from the cartoon.

  • denpanosekai

    If ONLY it had a short scene depicting “the flash”, like Terminator 2 did… would have made the movie much more memorable. The ending was a total let down and Kunis completely ruined the parts she appeared in. But yeah, Fallout fans such as I will appreciate the hard work put into the post-apocalyptic background.

  • denpanosekai

    If ONLY it had a short scene depicting “the flash”, like Terminator 2 did… would have made the movie much more memorable. The ending was a total let down and Kunis completely ruined the parts she appeared in. But yeah, Fallout fans such as I will appreciate the hard work put into the post-apocalyptic background.

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  • Anymatadi

    The bible is the truth.

  • Highlander66

    hey Brandon If you looked even a little bit at the trailers shown on t.v. you would've seen that the BOOK is the bible. The reviewer didn't give anything away that the studio hadn't already shown us in the t.v. trailers. Open your eyes.

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  • free spirit

    terrible preaching,ok if your religious but if your not then dont watch this film.

  • Joe

    and for those who feel that this movie is a “religious propoganda” movie….shame on you. I read some of the comments here and on IMDB and I am appauled. How dare (I was going to say “God forbid” but I don’t want to offend anyone) Hollywood put out a movie that happens to put a positive light on a book called the Holy Bible. I guess that simply offends too many people. Movies that promote underage sex or demonic violence or deliver messages of “hate” are more acceptable..and a movie like this has no place in the home…because its “propoganda.” Lets face it….ITS A MOVIE! Say you didn’t like the story..but don’t dare call it propoganda. Well, here is my review. Good movie, worth watching despite some of the loop holes in the plot. Basically, you’ll get your money’s worth if you rent or dial this one up. You can’t go wrong with Denzel. AMEN

  • Bob

    The beginning was too slow and the end was a let down (it just seemed way too improbable) in my opinion. I didn’t think it was ‘too preachy’, although the idea that the only thing left that was needed to save mankind was The Bible seems a little silly to me.
    Overall though, a decent film with some good bits in it. Worth a watch.

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  • Hawaii Ex-Pat

    I just watched this movie on DVD and I thought it was entertaining and thoughtfull. The fact that the book is the Bible is revealed before the movie is half over and the title of the movie should clue in all but the most brainless.

    I did not find the movie “preachy” but rather that Eli was a faith driven individual. I can see the movie being ported over to Islam or Judaism by just changing the book. Overall the plot does have some small holes, but the opposing views of Carnegie’s desire to use the bible as a weapon versus Eli’s desire to deliver it to an unknown end that he believes is just was a nice discussion that applies in todays’s society.