The Book of Eli

by | Jul 13th, 2010 | 4:45PM | Filed under: DVD Reviews, Movies

Against my better judgment, I enjoy The Book of Eli. Here’s an Apocalyptic action flick so brain-dead dopey it’s amazing Nicolas Cage isn’t in it. On top of that, it’s slathered with some pretty gooey pseudo-religious hokum. But like a little dog in a clown costume, the movie combines two negatives to create… well, something entertaining.

Though the film is all cool surfaces and zero smarts, some of the credit for The Book of Eli not stinking as much as it should must go to Denzel Washington—the guy can sell just about any soap, no matter how ridiculous or beneath his talents. Washington’s secret weapon has always been that layer of churlish annoyance just under the smile and the charm, and he’s got it working overtime here. He plays Eli, a survivor of a nuclear apocalypse who’s wandering a wasteland of bandits, cannibals, and crime lords while carrying the last remaining copy of The Book. (The film’s title is a pretty good indicator of its subtlety.)

To be clear, I find The Book of Eli offensive on a lot of levels. After the grim brilliance of The Road, it seems wrong to wring cheap action fun out of post-Apocalyptic fantasy fluff like this—in the same way you shouldn’t laugh at Hogan’s Heroes after you’ve seen Schindler’s List. On the other hand, I do still laugh at Hogan’s Heroes, and I do still dig dusty, radioactive wasteland flicks where everyone wears goggles and drives the latest in Road Warrior family trucksters.

What makes The Road so powerful is it doesn’t indulge in wishful thinking about how ennobling and righteous and almost fun the post-Apocalypse will be. The Book of Eli on the other hand gives us a wasteland that hearkens back to the Good Old Days of the Wild West. (Lest you miss the point, one character continually whistles Ennio Morricone.) It’s the L.L. Bean Apocalypse, where men are men, and women still have great skin despite three decades of radioactive scour. (Thankfully while all other technology seems to have been knocked back to pre-WWII levels, breast augmentation surgery and push-up bra innovation still thrive.) It’s a washed-out America After the Fall where there’s no apparent food supply, but plenty of gasoline and bullets—where the hero’s primary survival issue is getting his iPod recharged. This is the character-building kind of Apocalypse—like an extended camping trip for civilization.

Dragged down to its level of inanity–where what looks cool always trumps logic, reason, and environmental reality—you can have a hoot with The Book of Eli. The film’s directors, the Hughes Brothers, are solid stylists with the cinematic nuance of a cinder-block fight. They love them some deserted road and sepia skies, and they’re no slouches when it comes to a good shoot out or knife fight. (Though I’m afraid to ask exactly where Eli was hiding that long bow and arrows he magically produces halfway through the movie.) The Hughes keep the movie barreling forward on dumb charm and dusty thrills, seemingly oblivious to the logic holes and philosophical flaws in their flick. (Jesus may say turn the cheek and love thy neighbor, but Eli’s Old Testament God still has a keen taste for the ol’ eye for an eye ultraviolence and red-red kroovy.)

(Though I have more than a few nagging questions. Why does a 20-something character laugh when an older couple play Anita Ward’s disco-cheese “Ring My Bell”? She’d be far too young to have ever heard the song or have any context for its ironic kitsch. And you mean to tell me all these folks were out there in the desert for 30 years, less than a day’s drive from the Pacific Ocean and never bothered to roam that far?)

Through it all–including a final plot twist that either ennobles the whole proceeding or renders it laughably ridiculous–Denzel maintains a straight face and keeps The Book of Eli from devolving into pure drive-in cheese. He’s aided by Gary Oldman as the Old-West-style robber baron bedeviling Eli—presiding over the Last Chance Saloon of Cliches the actor seems to have ingested a bit of the Holy David Carradine while regurgitating the Full Nicholson. Mila Kunis sulks and sashays the role of The Tag Along Girl into something a little more effective than you’d expect. And folks like Tom Waits (who may have actually been born in a post-nuclear wasteland), Jennifer Beals, Ray Stevenson, and Michael Gambon add local color.

In the end, The Book of Eli is more goofily enjoyable than it has any right to be. None of its parts make a lick of sense, and yet it somehow works overall on a nicely shallow, comic-book level of silliness. After all, an Apocalypse with iPods, Oakley sunglasses, and Denzel? Who wouldn’t be down with that?

The Book of Eli is on DVD and available for rental from redbox.

46 Responses to “The Book of Eli

  1. Matt
    Posted on July 27, 2010 at 10:53 am

    I thought this movie was fairly well made but too predictable. And far too religiously heavy handed for my tastes. The “twist” at the end (Eli’s blind) doesn’t really jive with earlier parts of the film. This is the same guy who takes down 5 or 6 baddies at once [SPOILER WARNING] but he can’t see. [END SPOILER] Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. But the movie does boast some very credible performances from Denzel Washington & Gary Oldman, in my opinion two of the best performers on film of any era.

  2. Bruce
    Posted on July 27, 2010 at 11:08 am

    I agree with Josh. Mr. Peterseim missed entirely the point and theme of this movie’s message: In a world destroyed by sin, God chooses a believer to carry his Word forward, protects him, gives him the strength and the faith to oppose the forces of evil, and by his example is an inspiration to a chosen few who will, “…renew their strength and rise up with the wings of eagles…” under God’s protection, for the purpose of spreading the Gospel.

  3. David
    Posted on July 27, 2010 at 11:25 am

    I loved it… Denzel has a very reassuring in control effect over the film, and Mila Kunis… is awesome, hot and fun to watch. It’s a fight to survive for the good side. I’m going to buy it on BluRay disc. My opinion, don’t miss it if you’re a Denzel fan, a Mila fan or love a old plot with a new twist. The knife fight scenes are great….

    Two thumbs up!

    • Currently 5/5 Stars
    Posted on July 27, 2010 at 11:30 am

    I want to just correct a few points here: For one, whoever wrote this review has NO stance to deem anything “pseudo-religious hokum” Why? Because every single thing from this movie was an accurate biblical replication. In the bible there is a time between the rapture, where after Jesus comes back and takes his children, all the rest of the people who were not saved will be left, given a second chance. And there will be no bibles.(once again, I’m not making this up, look it up.) So in this movie, there has been no apocalypse, there has been judgment day. Obviously Eli did not go the first time, probably because of his task God assigned him too, and within this movie he completes. Through the protection of God from the murderer’s and rapists, the cannibals and out-laws, and the madness of life on a dirt road, he manages to make it to his destination, one he was unaware of. (he was only told to go West by God. A not so out-of-the-ordinary thing: God once telling Abraham to go to a place called ‘there’) All in all, this is probably a movie saved for more open minded people, or people who care to understand anything about the bible. This a sad attempt at a real review, a major failure. The review is ignorant. Please find more educated people to write your reviews from now on, because this makes me want to never have ANY more dealings with this company.

    • Currently 5/5 Stars
    Posted on July 27, 2010 at 11:54 am

    Loved the movie. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all were like Eli. A walking book of God’s word. I also found if prophetic the Washington was taking the “Word” to LA. Watch out California!!!!!

    • Currently 3/5 Stars
    Posted on July 27, 2010 at 12:14 pm

    “The Book of Eli” is a better movie than “The Road” for one simple reason–it’s not nearly as cynical. It’s actually inspiring at times, however, when it tries to be cynical it over-reaches a bit. One example, Mila’s character is walking alone in the desert when she happens upon some thugs in waiting. She’s dressed like she just stepped out of the gap, and two guys violently attack her and attempt to rape her. Nuh-uh…given the reality of their desperate existence, they would have sooner dropped to their knees and admired her beauty with an intensity akin to worship. And if there’d been any violence, it would have been directed toward each other to see which one would get the opportunity to serve her every wish just for the chance to be loved by her.

    • Currently 4/5 Stars
    Posted on July 27, 2010 at 1:54 pm

    I really enjoyed this movie. If you weren’t analyzing it for faults you can really enjoy it. Don’t try to compare it to Road Warrior or anything else because it isn’t like those movies. The main character is not supposed to be a hero going around saving everybody. He has a mission to accomplish and while he does this we see him grow as a person in that he realizes that God wants to accomplish more through him than just getting the book to the west coast. I plan on seeing this movie again so I can look for all the little hints, and yes, maybe analyze it closer. I highly recommend this movie, it works in its setting. Don’t read Matt’s review or it will spoil it for you as he gives away a big surprise that you hopefully don’t realize, or attempt to figure out until the end.

    • Currently 1/5 Stars
    Posted on July 27, 2010 at 2:14 pm

    I thought the review was better than the movie. I am a big fan of Denzel
    Washington. Towards the end I was looking forward to it ending. The book it’s self is what caused the War to begin with. I did notice with amusment the tune from “Once Upon a Time in America”.

    • Currently 4/5 Stars
    Posted on July 27, 2010 at 2:16 pm

    This is in response to MATT above.

    First of all, nice job spoiling a key part of the film for those who have not yet seen it, but wanted to see the reviews first.

    Secondly, the point you make shows you have no understanding of what the movie was trying to convey. Just as the reviewer made the same mistake complaining about where the bow came from. The answer is built into the premise of the movie. This man was chosen by God to complete a task. God provided him with what he needed to complete said task. If that requires fighting off 5 men by hand, or dead eye shooting others with a pistol (given what we later find out) then the journey goes on. From a spiritual aspect, I believe it made the ending very moving. When you think of what he accomplished given his “difficulties” it is a true testimate to the power of faith and God. I myself am a Christian, but as we see in the film, a higher power guided many (not only Eli) to promote religion so that the knowledge of our shared creator regardless of what your belief is continues.

    As I understood the movie, God worked through his prophets to make sure that mankind would have the opportunity to learn of him. I would personally like to believe that the Holy Trinity was at play to ensure that people can learn of God in principal and the one true path to God would be determined individually.

    Not trying to preach, but I think the depth religion plays in the movie is undeniable and you cant properly discuss the movie and ignore these obvious truths.

    • Currently 5/5 Stars
    Posted on July 27, 2010 at 2:17 pm


    • Currently 5/5 Stars
    Posted on July 27, 2010 at 3:06 pm

    I loved this movie!! Denzel has always been one of my faves, and the actress that played Solara (can’t remember her name but she’s from “That 70′s Show) was a pleasant surprise. I have recommended it to my family members!!

    • Currently 1/5 Stars
    Posted on July 28, 2010 at 11:23 am

    Against my better judgment, I rented this movie. To me, Denzel phoned it in. Oldman did his usual workman work. At the risk of being burned at the stake, I thought the movie was hokey, banal, cheesy, and downright stupid.

    • Currently 5/5 Stars
    Posted on July 28, 2010 at 2:09 pm

    I will get a movie or buy one. Watch it once and perhaps wait weeks or months before I watch it again. For the first time I kept this rental an extra day just to watch it again. For whatever reason it effected me on a deep level.

    • Currently 4/5 Stars
    Posted on July 28, 2010 at 3:03 pm

    This plot is consistent with the old testament, however, choice of KJV and allocation to a resource shelf between the torah and holy qu’ran bode ill for the movie’s makers — don’t you think?

    • Currently 5/5 Stars
    M. Dean
    Posted on July 28, 2010 at 10:13 pm

    Great movie with great action and special effects. Fantastic storyline. The theme of which has worked for over two-thousand years. The reviewer of this movie unfortunately is not well read nor well informed about shall we say “history”. Forget the fact that the reviewer obviously has no clue of biblical significance, history or the Christian philosophy. My opinion of the reviewer is that he or she just may well be more “informed” than they let on to be. It’s probably a classic case of what’s known in hip-hop culture as “hateration”. Meaning the reviewer knows of the spiritual undertone of the movie but intentionally chose to attack and berate the movie because of his/her disdain for anything “spiritual”. And we wonder why the U.S.A. is in downward spiral! Fantastic movie! Go see it. Which I make a point of doing for all the movies that movie critics tend to assasinate!!

  4. Natalie
    Posted on July 29, 2010 at 11:47 am

    I loved this movie. It was simply inspirational to me. All religion aside, I got from the movie that when you have a mission (goal), never give up, no matter the obstacles come your way. And if you have someone that will “pick up the torch” when your task has been accomplished, even more the better:)

  5. jnel
    Posted on July 30, 2010 at 2:18 pm

    John I agree with you…..Why would they walk that far to the ocean?? The person who wrote this is sooooo wrong. First of all…how would they even know the ocean was there??? They might not……second of all…would you travel even five miles if you had clean water and shelter??? The roads were way to dangerous to be walkin to the Ocean. I personally would not want to get ur an idiot lol.

    • Currently 5/5 Stars
    J. Parker
    Posted on July 31, 2010 at 5:16 pm

    Denzel did a great job of being a committed believer in the Word and also Christ. In thinking about our future, we don’t have to let our imagination go too far to see that the setting is believable, and that’s kinda scary. No one knows what tomorrow brings, but this movie presents a clear picture of what it could be.

  6. K Stone
    Posted on July 31, 2010 at 8:26 pm

    The movie was great yeah it had it’s moments of predictibility, but almost all Apocalyptic movies have the same theme. I liked and I guess that’s what matters to me. As for “The Road” That movie dragged on the whole way. I thought Viggo Mortensen there would have been more action, not alot of whinning.

    • Currently 4/5 Stars
    Posted on August 2, 2010 at 2:50 am

    I was eager to see this film, having heard of its positive stance toward the Bible. The movie was a buy for me until the very last scene: [SPOILER ALERT] Giving Qur’an a place next to the Biblical texts is a crime against God and Man, reason, and morality. It implies a moral equivalence between the two, a position Muhammad’s “revelations” do not deserve. How can “Love your enemies,” be placed next to “kill the pagans wherever you find them” (Qur’an 9:5, the Verse of the Sword, which nullified all promises of peace with the non-Muslim world)?

    The real tragedy of the film is that in a post-Apocalyptic world, when nearly two millennia of jihad against the non-Muslim world could have been put to a permanent end, its source and sustenance, Qur’an, is preserved by what’s left of humanity.[SPOILER ALERT OFF].

    Rated four out of five stars for suggesting that not even the end of The World As We Know It can kill Islam.