The Book of Eli (2010)

The Book of Eli Denzel Washington

It’s like opening a well-wrapped present only to discover it’s socks or a gift card to Olive Garden, this fails to meet its early promises.

book_of_eli_ver2Should I see it?
Sure.  But keep your expectations in check.

Director: The Hughes Brothers

Writer: Gary Whitta

Starring:  Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis, Ray Stevenson, Jennifer Beals, Tom Waits and Michael Gambon

Rated R for violence and language

Eli (Denzel Washington) is a lone drifter traveling through the barren, waterless concrete dustbowl of post-war America on an apparent mission from God. Along with his custom-made machete and Oakley sunglasses, he carries the only remaining Bible in the whole world.  Which is fitting since, from the looks of the cast, he is also the only remaining black man in America as well.

Eli arrives at an isolated town run by the small time despot Carnegie (Gary Oldman). Carnegie has been sending his biker bandits on missions to collect books from across the surrounding wasteland. Carnegie is a budding fascist and understands that if he can find a copy of the Bible, the Word of God, he will have the key to gaining tighter control on the minds and souls of the population, thus affording him a path to greater glory.

Eli strolls into town. His Bible is found out and he refuses to hand it over.  Hollywood violence ensues in short order.

This is a solid premise and the story’s central conflict is well supported by a compelling protagonist and antagonist (Eli and Carnegie, respectfully). There is no reason why this shouldn’t be a fun, notable film. Remarkably, even with an engaging conflict and a (mostly) talented cast, this film ends up missing the mark.

There is an old adage for police that you don’t pull out your gun unless you’re going to use it. The same can be said for faith in film. If you broach the sensitive subject of religion you had better be willing to a have a conclusion one way or the other. Any story that pulls in religious imagery or text and then balks at remaining firm through to the end will ring hollow – just like this film does. I discuss this further in the Worldview section of this review below.

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