'Book of Eli': The Diligent Pursuit Of The Word

Denzel Washington

Chasing Revelation: Denzel Washington's Eli is a man on a mission. Warner Bros. Pictures hide caption

itoggle caption Warner Bros. Pictures

The Book of Eli

  • Directors: Albert & Allen Hughes
  • Genre: Post-apocalyptic adventure
  • Running Time: 118 minutes

Rated R: Violence, profanity, possible heresy

With: Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis, Ray Stevenson, Jennifer Beals

Battling his way across an earthly hell to preserve the word of heaven, the hero of The Book of Eli is a solemn figure. Indeed, the movie would probably work better if it took Denzel Washington's solitary pilgrim a little less seriously.

The saga opens in a near-dead forest whose appearance is all too reminiscent of The Road. As in that bummed-out parable, color is largely lacking, and food is hard to come by. But Eli is well-armed, and handy with the weapons he has accumulated; he can bring down the occasional cat or bird for dinner. After eating, he listens to Al Green on his antique music player and reads the treasured book he carries with him.

Eli doesn't let anyone get a good look at the tome, which "a voice" told him to take west, but it has a cross on the cover. And when the grimy, grizzled superhero starts reciting from the book, the verses will be familiar to many Christians and Jews.

In this film, as in The Road, only a few people have survived some unexplained catastrophe — many of them, curiously, seem to be classically trained British actors — and a large portion of the population is hungry enough to chow down on human flesh. One significant difference between the two scenarios is that in Eli, the bandits have a boss: a ruthless book collector named Carnegie (Gary Oldman), an ironic reference to the steel tycoon who built libraries all over the U.S.

In a moment that suggests a nuke-blasted Sergio Leone Western, the taciturn stranger pulls into the villain's dusty town. All Eli wants is water — and for the local junk shop owner (Tom Waits) to recharge his music player. But then Carnegie learns that the newcomer has a book — perhaps even the book he has long sought, believing it will bring him power.

Eli makes his way out of town, followed by the local cutie, Solara (Mila Kunis). The hero tries to dump the girl but can't, which is for the best: Solara proves to be a quick study with guns, blades and grenades. She helps Eli fight Carnegie's gang, as well as the occasional British-accented cannibal.

Gary Oldman and Denzel Washington i

Gary Oldman — one of the many British actors who seem to have survived the film's unexplainable catastrophe — plays a bandit king set on getting his hands on Eli's book. Warner Bros. Pictures hide caption

itoggle caption Warner Bros. Pictures
Gary Oldman and Denzel Washington

Gary Oldman — one of the many British actors who seem to have survived the film's unexplainable catastrophe — plays a bandit king set on getting his hands on Eli's book.

Warner Bros. Pictures

"Eli" is Hebrew for "my God," and the Bible's Eli was the teacher of Samuel, a great prophet. That background might render The Book of Eli controversial for some religious literalists. But the movie, for all its Old Testament dread, is too silly to spark any great furor. Gary Whitta and Tony Peckham's script is more Fahrenheit 451 than The Passion of the Christ, and ultimately, the film is about as theological as Washington's last Bible-based thriller, Fallen, in which the actor played a cop tracking a fallen angel.

Directors Albert and Allen Hughes, who began their career with the inner-city crime tales Menace II Society and Dead Presidents, have traded hip-hop for a thumping electro-industrial score. But they retain their action-flick instincts: They divebomb the camera though combat scenes full of fire and gore.

Yet The Book of Eli isn't the end of days, or even Schwarzenegger's End of Days. The story may turn on a book, but finally this is just another Hollywood hymn to a loner and his guns.

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