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January 20, 2010

Movie Review: Book of Eli

The Book of Eli has to be one of the most powerful movies I have seen in a long time.  Surprisingly, from a Hollywood that has seemed almost rabidly anti-Christian for a long time (with a few exceptions, such as Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ), comes one of the most Christian movies since Gibson's epic.  As anybody who has read my posts in the last week knows, I am not really a Christian, and yet this film moved me as well.  It is that good.

Thirty years ago, nuclear fire rained down upon the Earth, turning it into a desolate wasteland (it's assumed that the entire planet is like this, though we don't find out anything about the conflict). A year or two later, some survivors who managed to either find shelter or be out of the way of the worst of the conflagration, start rebuilding their lives.  People are desperate, just scraping by, sometimes forming small communities for protection from the roving marauders who try to survive at the expense of everyone else. Blasted out cars litter highways, the skeletons of their original occupants still sitting in the driver's seat.  This is a world where KFC wet-naps can be used as currency to the right buyer.

This is the world that Eli (Denzel Washington) inhabits.  Eli is older, old enough to remember the devastation.  Devastation that many blamed on books like the Christian Bible.  All copies of the Bible have been destroyed.  But Eli heard a voice telling him to go somewhere, and buried in the rubble was a locked, leather-bound edition of the King James version.  The voice told him to go west and his path would be revealed to him.  He's done this for 30 years, walking the wastelands, defending himself and the book from all takers.  He's forced to learn combat maneuvers, and he has become very good at it.  The bodies and severed limbs from an attack in an early scene in the movie are testament to this.

Carnegie (Gary Oldman) also remembers the old days, before the war.  He controls a town in the wasteland with an iron first, paying his mercenaries in water, money, and women to keep the city subdued.  The man who controls the water supply controls the people.  But it's not enough.  He thinks the Book will give his words greater weight, to control even more of the battered wasteland.  No indication of how he even knows of the Book's existence is given in the movie (is this a classic God/Satan match-up?), but he has men roaming the wastes, collecting books that they can't read, in order to find this book that will give him such power.

When Eli comes to town, everything's going to come to a head.

Despite the extreme violence in much of this film (during some of the fight scenes, directors Albert and Allan Hughes don't shy away from the blood, severed heads and other graphic details of what these fights entail), this has to be one of the most uplifting films I've seen in a while, with a beautiful message of faith.  Eli reads from the Book every night after he's found a place to rest.  Eli doesn't know where he's going, but he's sure that he will know it when he gets there.  He just knows it's "west."  The voice that told him to go is enough for him.  Washington gives Eli such depth that he's a joy to watch.  You can tell that he does not meet people very often, as at the beginning of the film his lines are almost limited to one-word answers.

Oldman gets to chew some scenery as Carnegie, but he's very effective.  One reviewer mentioned how effortlessly Oldman can go from the kind and altruistic Commissioner Gordon in the Batman films to a madman like Carnegie without batting an eyelash.  I have to agree.  He's been phenomenal in so many roles, and this one is no different.  The way he plays Carnegie at the end of the movie almost makes you feel a pang of sympathy for him.  Almost, but not quite.

The total surprise for me is how good Mila Kunis (from "That 70s Show") is in this film.  She plays Solara, the illiterate daughter of Claudia (Jennifer Beals, in an excellent performance too), who is Carnegie's woman.  Sent to "entertain" Eli when he is Carnegie's guest, she instead becomes fascinated by him and his quest, even joining him on it at one point.  She's desperate to learn what it is that could drive Eli to walk the wastes for 30 years on the whim of a voice in his head.  While she doesn't necessarily have a lot to do in the film, she is an important part of it, and she does not drop the ball.  Whether she soaked up the energy of acting with Washington, Oldman and Malcolm McDowell or whether she was just wasted in "That 70s Show" (where it didn't appear that she had many chops in the acting department), she was a revelation.

There are a couple of small logic-holes in the plot, though they can be mostly hand-waved away with an explanation that makes semi-sense.  Also, the movie's beginning, where it sets the scene by showing Eli on his journey (forced to eat a cat that he caught, exploring a run-down house out in the middle of nowhere, etc), can be a little slow.  Also, I'd love to know how Eli can have such perfect teeth (Washington really does have great teeth, doesn't he?).  It's really put into perspective the first time he meets somebody on the road, when we see how horrible-looking their teeth are.

As a gamer, I also loved how the movie looked a lot like Fallout 3, the post-apocalyptic video game from last year.  The devastation was very similar.  The cinematography really brings that to light.  Everything's grey and dusty-looking, the graininess of the film adding to the effect.  Everything's washed out, adding to the air of desperation.

Washington is one of Hollywood's biggest Christians, so it's not surprising he made a film like this (he's co-producer).  What's surprising is how uplifting it is to those who aren't even of that denomination.  Even as it's oppressed by people like Carnegie, the spirit of this movie soars like an eagle above the wastes.  Eli is a violent man by necessity, not nature.  It's the quiet moments, with the Book, where his true nature comes out.  As many people as he has been forced to kill over the last 30 years, he is a good man, a man on a mission.  One he can't let anybody stand in his way of completing.

As I mentioned, there are moments of extreme violence, and there is colourful language used by the bad guys (as well as Solara a couple of times).  Put that aside, though, because The Book of Eli is well worth it.  You'll see a sterling example of just what faith can bring you.  And you'll get to see a phenomenal movie as well.


  1. Thanks for posting, but I'm not going to read this until I've seen the movie for fear of spoilers!

  2. There's not much spoiling in there, but I understand. :)

    Oh, I do reveal that Eli is really a space alien, but I thought that was obvious from the trailers. :P

  3. Thanks for the review. I've seen this advertized & wondered what it was about. Now I know.

  4. Thanks for the review! I have this one on my list, and now I just want to hurry up its release date!

  5. It's already out, actually. LOL Even in Iowa. :P

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  7. Thanks so much for the offer, but I'll have to pass. I don't really see too many movies so posts like this are too rare.

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