Not since The Boondock Saints have audiences been exposed to as much stylized bloodshed in the name of Christianity as in The Book of Eli, the latest addition to the recent wave of films depicting the aftermath of an apocalypse. The film follows the journey of Eli (Denzel Washington) as he heads west across a barren wasteland. In his possession is the last known copy of the King James Bible, a priceless artifact that he guards with his razor-sharp machete, and if necessary, his life. The result is an aptly entertaining, violent chase film with heavy religious pretentions.
Even though directors Albert and Allen Hughes are not afraid to put faith into the equation of this post-apocalyptic drama, there is still plenty of stylized violence. Eli acts only in self-defense, but when he is attacked, he reveals himself as a ruthless warrior who will not hesitate to kill. The filmmakers provide the early fight scenes with gruesome Tarantino-esque eye candy, then retreat to a more traditional style in later scenes.
As Eli makes his way into a town in search of water, he is confronted by Carnegie (Gary Oldman), who runs the town and also happens to have an army of men searching for a copy of the Bible, with the intention of ruling the post-apocalyptic world with it. Eli escapes with the help of Solara (Mila Kunis), who lives with Carnegie and her blind mother Claudia (Jennifer Beals). Solara decides to follow Eli on his journey and the two work together to find peace and protect the book from harm.
The film is shot well, with slick action sequences and a suspenseful opening scene, providing for an effective hook. As the plot develops, however, the film’s scenes become a little more contrived and less believable. The film walks a fine line between fun action-entertainment and a serious religious parable, only to reach a silly ending rather than, perhaps, the point. If it were not for expectedly good performances from Washington and Oldman, as well as an unexpected performance by Tom Waits in the minor role of an engineer, the film might not have succeeded.
Despite some issues with the plot, The Book of Eli has enough stylistic action and suspense to entertain audiences, at least on a visual level. With the help of a respectable cast, the movie is interesting and fun to watch. Whether it leaves any lasting impressions or not will depend on the viewer, but mainstream audiences are not likely to take the film seriously as it lacks the emotional sincerity of last year’s The Road.
The Book of Eli is rated R and is currently playing in theaters nationwide.