The Book of Eli
By Carl Kozlowski
January 15, 2010
Our reviewer says the new, hyper-violent Denzel Washington film is one of the most overt faith-films out there.
Think of Christian films, and you might conjure up images of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, with Jesus being brutally pummeled and crucified until he dies. Or you might think of countless lesser-known movies filled with sappy storylines, bad acting and moral messages that are themselves pummeled into the audience.
But the new movie The Book of Eli doesn’t fit either of those molds. In fact, this wildly entertaining, ultra-violent, post-Apocalyptic tale of a lone wanderer named Eli (Denzel Washington) who will defend the mysterious book in his possession at all costs is one of the oddest yet most forthright faith-based films to ever come out of a major studio.
Eli is carrying a copy of the last Bible on the planet, since all other religious texts—including Torahs and Korans—were rounded up and destroyed 30 years before after religious strife was believed to have caused a devastating global nuclear war. Eli believes he’s heard the voice of God telling him to bring the Bible to an unspecified place in the West, but a ruthless despot named Carnegie (Gary Oldman) knows that if he gets his hands on the precious book, he can distort its teachings and have total control over the minds and spirits of the people who live in his empire of revived, Old West-style towns.
With Eli joined by Solara (Mila Kunis), a Carnegie servant girl hoping to find a better life, the race is on between the duo and the tyrant’s small army of henchmen and weapons to maintain final control over mankind’s destiny. And that means Washington will slice, dice, sever or shoot anyone who gets in his way
Directed by Allen and Albert Hughes (aka The Hughes Brothers)—who previously built their careers on nihilistic fare like Menace II Society, Dead Presidents and the pimp-praising documentary American Pimp—The Book of Eli couldn’t be a bigger surprise. But Washington has long been one of Hollywood’s most openly Christian actors, and in taking on the executive-producer role for Eli as well, he has placed his clout squarely behind his beliefs to create a film that adds plenty of spiritual substance and feeling to what might otherwise have been a time-worn template for predictability.
It’ll be interesting to see the box-office results, for Oldman and his henchmen are profanely tough-talking baddies and the battles with Washington are as violent as a movie gets. Yet the movie also features many tender moments in which Eli reads the Bible privately while praying, or one beautiful scene in which he recites particularly vivid Scriptures to the illiterate Solara.
The Book of Eli wears it heart on its sleeve from beginning to end, clearly crediting the Bible as the one book above all that can change the world. And while Oldman’s Carnegie has plenty of fun as the film’s face of evil, the film as a whole never strays from its vision of Eli and Solara as unshakably right and Oldman as unmistakably wrong.
That clear point of view, mixed with doses of surprising emotional depth, should prove to be a welcome bonus for viewers, whether they’re Christian or not. It’s simply refreshing to find that with The Book of Eli, Hollywood has created a genre film that delivers on hardcore action while hardly settling as a by-the-book exercise.