August 27, 2010

Rabid Rewind: The Book of Eli

The Book of Eli
starring Denzel Washington, Mila Kunis, and Gary Oldman
directed by the Hughes Brothers
written by Gary Whitta
Warner Bros. (2010)

Despite being one of the best leading men in Hollywood, Denzel Washington's track record at the box office isn't exactly awe-inspiring. While it might be reasonable to chalk that up to a lingering racism in Tinseltown, some of the films that Denzel has starred in just haven't been that great. Virtuosity might be a prime example, though if you haven't seen it I recommend it as one of my guilty pleasures.

In The Book of Eli, Denzel plays an aging wanderer, Eli, in a post-apocalyptic America. He's heading west on foot carrying a book and a few other meager possessions, and violently decimates any thug or degenerate who tries to stop him. The abilities of his character in self-defense are made clear in an early scene where he kills a gang of a half-dozen or so with only a knife that would make Crocodile Dundee blush with envy. While never stated outright, there is a sense that he comes with a military background and a keen sense of duty.

What is implicitly stated is that the book he carries is the last remaining version of the King James Bible. Whatever war that decimated humanity was blamed on religion by those who survived, and all religious books--heck, most books of any sort--were subsequently destroyed. As it turns out, his soon-to-be nemesis played by Gary Oldman is a book-lover and -horder in search of a copy of the Bible in order to control his rampant town and gain influence in other towns.

Denzel plays the weary warrior quite well. Despite being on a self-described mission from God, he's imperfect and shows measures of empathy and callousness on his journey. Oldman as usual chews the scenery as yet another conniving and loathsome villain. I don't care how mediocre a movie is, sprinkle in some of Gary Oldman's sinister laughter and I'm happy as a clam. In a supporting role is Mila Kunis. Ably performed her role might have been in the film, I still--to this day--cannot remove her from her role as Jackie on "That 70s Show." To see her playing a gritty, hard-nosed femme fatale just feels a tad comical to me.

When the movie first came out I read reviews from critics had bemoaned a blatant pro-Christian sentiment in the film, since the so-called "Book of Eli" is the Holy Bible. As an atheist reading those reviews, I sat down to watch this film with the notion that the film was going to try to evangelize me at some point. That didn't happen. Only a staunch anti-theist would walk away from this film with an insulted attitude. What I saw was a film that did more than promote the Bible, but promoted literature as a whole. The full context of Eli's mission until the third act, but it shows he wasn't out to convert the masses to follow his God so much as trying to preserve something genuinely good in humanity.

And while the film's ending does provide a small amount of aggravation for me, it comes from the portrayal of certain characters in the final moments, and not any proselytizing message that might have been there. Despite its flaws it's a decent film. Average perhaps, but enjoyable if taken at face value.


  1. I actually REALLY enjoyed this movie. I could have gone without the (!!!spoilers!!!) surviving a gut shot near the end, but I let it pass, figuring it was some symbolic of Christ.

    Also, DAMN, what an amazing score. I was listening to it while writing just the other night.

  2. I really liked this one....
    It may have some flaws, but the good parts more than compensate.

  3. I'm going to have to rent it again. I liked it the first time but I fell asleep halfway through, just like every other movie I watch these days. Too damn tired.

  4. I had no idea what this one was about when I went to watch it in the theater. And the theater experience was something else. I live in the Washington, DC area, in a largely Hispanic neighborhood. When my friend Leigh and I walked into a Saturday night showing of this, we were the only non-African-Americans in the room. I was shocked. Denzel is the best! And Oldman to boot...anyway, the experience was not what I expected on any level.

    I felt that the movie was very interesting on an intellectual level, and also entertaining. And yet, when I mentioned it to my friends, there was no enthusiasm. I really wonder about the movie-going public sometimes...

  5. Barry - The score was pretty darned good. And the ending irked me in that regard, as well as a certain someone walking off into the sunset. Felt really hackneyed to me.

    Andrew - Agreed.

    Jeremy - Fell asleep during an Oldman film? For shame. :)

    Celia - I was thankful it avoided the heavy-handed approach. It would have gotten really tiresome that way, to me.