Eli is “on a mission from God,” and like all true believers, he cannot lose. Seriously, nothing stands in his way: Not a nuclear apocalypse, nor highway bandits, nor Sirius Black zealously seeking the last Bible on earth, nor cannibalistic old people, nor plot twists that render the entire movie ridiculous… This was, in ways, full of more traditional biblical obstacles, but it was also way less fun than watching The Blues Brothers serve the Almighty. (Slightly humorous that these movies were back-to-back on our shelves, though.)
This feels like a movie trying hard to be deep and meaningful, but falling just short of that. The story revolves around Eli (Denzel Washington), who was lead to what is possibly the last copy of the Bible by a voice in his head. He is compelled to travel west to insure the book’s safety. His main nemesis is Carnegie (Gary Oldman), the leader of a town who wishes to expand his power. He is convinced that if he can just find a Bible, he can use the book to rule over other towns. The plot could be interesting, but the execution is lacking. Specifically, the big reveal at the end is just too unbelievable, even for a film where bullets magically seem to graze by Denzel and he has advanced fighting and hunting skills with absolutely no explanation as to how.
I will say this: Book of Eli did keep me thinking about the deeper meaning of the film for days afterward. While I’m sure many viewers will see this purely as Christian allegory, I saw it more as a triumph of humanity. Throughout the film it is revealed that all copies of the Bible were destroyed after the nuclear war that has decimated the planet (or maybe just North America? The scope is never made clear.), possibly because the Bible caused the war. I took this to actually mean that all copies of religious text were destroyed; that the war was a religious one, so all religion was effectively banned. I felt that the ending reinforces this. When Eli finally succeeds in delivering his copy of the King James Bible to a safe haven on Alcatraz, it is placed on a shelf between the Torah and the Qur’an. It is the missing chapter between the two holy texts, but no more or less important. Did other men and women risk their lives to deliver the other books? I’d like to think so. I’d also like to think that they were guided and protected by God just as Eli was.
I find it hard to completely blast this movie, because it does try. Denzel Washington and Gary Oldman give excellent performances. Mila Kunis isn’t quite at their level, but she’s not horrible. I just have a hard time believing her in anything other than a contemporary setting (maybe it’s her voice?). The musical score is perfect, and the cinematography contains some beautifully shot scenes. I also feel slightly warm to Book of Eli because elements of it are similar to the novel Fahrenheit 451, one of my favorite books of all time.
But then I think about that twist ending. Ugh.
This is an action movie that tries to be much more than that, never really succeeding. I don’t understand why movies try to be more than they are. The only reason I can think of is that The Bourne Identity movies were such a game changer for the action genre– by giving us an action movie with brains– so now every film maker is trying to piggy back off that success and a make thinking man’s action film. The Book of Eli could’ve been fun if they’d gone with the tried and true action movie blueprint of great action sequences and lots of loud bangs, but The Book of Eli spends far too much time doing exposition and not enough time blowing things up. Denzel Washington is normally great and has done action in the past when he made the brilliant Man on Fire and Training Day, but he just seems out of place here. It felt like he wasn’t really trying and was really getting bored while he filmed this movie, as was I while watching it. Gary Oldman also appears as the main villain of the piece, and he too has been much better. In saying that, Oldman is the best part about this film. It’s nice to see him being a bad guy again. The last few years have been spent as goody two shoes like James Gordon and Sirius Black, so to see him reach back into that great well of bad guy acting knowledge he has was a real treat.
The Book of Eli is set in a post apocalyptic world. They don’t go into too much detail about what happened. There is talk of a nuclear explosion a few years back, but they don’t delve too far into that. The point is that the world is screwed now. Denzel plays Eli, a loner who is travelling across country, hoping to get to the West Coast of the USA so he can deliver a book that a voice told him to find and to protect with his life on his journey to San Francisco. It’s not really explained what the book is until the very end, although it is hinted at throughout the film. Gary Oldman’s character, Carnegie, is in charge of a small town that also hopes to acquire this book as he believes it will lead to their salvation. When Eli passes through Carnegie’s town, they battle it out to get the book that Eli needs to protect. Mila Kunis also appears as a young girl who gets caught up in the action. Her character was a bit boring. She really could’ve been played by anyone. Kunis doesn’t add much to the role and she has been much better.
This was a strange movie to watch. The colours used on screen are very grey. Sometimes it feels like the picture is in black and white. The action scenes are quite good, when they turn up. Most of the movie though, is spent explaining why this book is so important and how mysterious Denzel’s character is. I did like the twist at the end, but getting to that point in the film was so tiresome. I expect more from Denzel and Gary Oldman.