Despite negative reviews, The Book of Eli is not as bad as the buzz. Some of the criticism seems directly related to the film’s Christian themes, and understandably so. If someone does not understand or accept the significance of the Bible as the inspired Word of God, then he or she will find the premise of the movie to be rather absurd. And it doesn’t help that this is one more entry in a recent string of post-apocalyptic films.
Blamed for the nuclear holocaust which took place 30 years prior, every known copy of the Bible has been destroyed, or so it is believed. Unknown to many, one copy still remains, and Eli (Denzel Washington) must protect it from the likes of Carnegie (Gary Oldman), a greedy mob boss who wishes to corrupt its power and authority in order to manipulate the weak and desperate.
Directed by Allen and Albert Hughes (Menace II Society), The Book of Eli has a grungy look and distinct feel. While there are the typical post-apocalyptic clichés — such as falling ash, roads filled with deserted cars, and creepy cannibals — the film’s strange music and bizarre camera angles help create a unique atmosphere. Washington’s performance is fine, the humor is effective, and the action is solid albeit surprisingly brief.
Since this is, at heart, a movie about the pursuit of the Bible, you might be wondering whether it’s a must-see film for Christians. Eh, not necessarily. Though some have called it a “Christian film,” the movie has more in common with Mad Max than Fireproof. Washington, a believer who has been a member of West Angeles Church of God in Christ for many years, has said he often chooses roles that can offer positive messages or reflect his deep personal faith. And this film definitely has a faith element that is great for discussion purposes, but it falls flat when it comes to its theology (which is vague).
The storyline does a great job of stressing the importance of the Bible and what it means to walk by faith. It even brings up the issue of how people get so wrapped up in defending the Bible that they forget what they’ve learned from it. But the overall effect is less satisfying than one would expect from an action film starring Denzel Washington.
It should be noted that there is a significant amount of violence. The protagonist may read the Bible daily, quote it frequently, and pray without ceasing, but he also wields a large knife and lops off body parts left and right.
I have mixed feelings about the film as a whole, but the concept and premise are nonetheless fascinating. Better character development and a less anti-climatic ending would’ve boosted its entertainment value and probably its reviews. The twist at the conclusion (I won’t give it away) is consistent with the film’s message, but it leaves you scratching your head in regards to previous events in the narrative. Hopefully, the film won’t leave too many audience members scratching their heads about the power of faith.
The Book of Eli (rated R) runs 118 minutes and contains some brutal violence and language.