Religion in film is always a testy subject. Even if a movie isn’t directly about faith, organizations manage to find minute details to point fingers at. The Book of Eli isn’t one of those movies. Denzel Washington’s name may be plastered all of the posters, but the Bible is at the film’s core. It’s a hypothetical story that makes no harmful allegations, yet its religious connotations will make it impossible for some to accept. On the other hand, for those willing to completely dismiss reality, it’s an enjoyable and action-packed dose of illogicality.
The Book of Eli is about just that, Eli’s book. Okay, it’s a little more complex. Thirty years post-apocalyptic occurrence, Eli (Denzel Washington) stumbles across a bible. Why is this so significant? Because after the apocalypse the men and women remaining turned their back on religion and destroyed every copy. Well, every copy except one and that one belongs to Eli, a seemingly indestructible wanderer wielding a massive machete.
The first twenty minutes of the film are fantastic. The Hughes brothers’ attention to detail is astounding. Everything from the contents of Eli’s pack to the beads of sweat glistening on his forehead makes him endlessly fascinating. But there’s just so far sequences of close-ups and dreary landscape shots can carry you and the brother know it. The first action sequence combines extraordinary choreography with mesmerizing cinematography to show that Eli is capable of far more than moping about the desert.
Eli is all serenity and pacifism when he arrives in the rickety town run by Carnegie (Gary Oldman) obsessed with finding a particular book. Naturally, it doesn’t take long for someone to push Eli’s button forcing him to brandish his weapon and give the townsfolk a serious beat down. Carnegie catches a glimpse of Eli’s talent and tries to enlist him in his team of goons. While hanging out with Solara (Mila Kunis), the daughter of Carnegie’s wife (Jennifer Beals), Eli mutters some verse of the bible, which she innocently repeats in front of the boss man. Oops! That book Carnegie is so desperate to get his hands on? The Bible. And now he knows Eli has the sole copy.
Yes, the plot sounds ridiculous and what I’m about to say is going to sound cliché, but IT’S A MOVIE. Eli walks around with a semi-busted iPod, the country is packing major artillery and everyone has a trendy pair of sunglasses, yet the Bible is nowhere to be found? If you get past the impossibility of the scenario, it’s endlessly entertaining. There’s few people left who know of life pre-destruction and the old-timers left share zero information about the concept of creed. Carnegie thinks that if he can get hold of a Bible, he can spread the word of God but not for the betterment of humanity, so that he can expand his empire.
Oldman is the ideal villain. He’s creepy and ruthless leaving you uneasily awaiting his every move. Carnegie’s every hope and dream relies on getting a copy of the bible and you feel his burning passion for domination. Oldman’s ability to bring Carnegie to life so vividly leaves Washington in a haze. You’re content with Eli muttering and milling about at first, but once more vibrant characters are introduced, like Carnegie, he’s kind of boring. Luckily Solara befriends the brooding hero bringing out more the buried elements of his personality. Kunis is also responsible for infusing the film with some much-needed heart. The battle between Eli and Carnegie keeps your heart races, but it’s Kunis’ story that makes it endearing. Solara’s portion of the film is really a coming of age story. You want her to survive and thrive, which ultimately makes you deeply concerned for Eli’s safety.
Solara’s story gives The Book of Eli some heart, but in the end it’s just a nonsensical action movie. The finale will be extremely difficult, if not impossible for some to digest, but for those who can push practicality aside, it’s a rewarding culmination. Having to put your brain on cruise control to appreciate a movie is never a good sign, but in The Book of Eli’s case, letting yourself go for two hours is well worth it.