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THE BOOK OF ELI (2010) *** movie review capsule by COOP

Posted on January 21st, 2010
Posted on January 21st, 2010


Here’s a movie with an ambitious story and message that almost pulled it off. 

Denzel Washington plays a cat-eating, machete-wielding post apocalyptic badass named Eli who walks the Earth (like Caine in “Kung Fu”) and carries a book that is supposed to save the remainder of the planet’s population 30 years after nuclear war.  He runs afoul of Carnegie (Gary Oldman), the honcho of a wild west-style town who has been searching for the book for years with plans to use it to control the masses rather than save them.  When he learns that Eli possesses it, he stops and nothing to get it. 

The book is the Bible.

Yeah, I said it.  It’s not really a spoiler because what else could it be?  The excuse in the story is that after the world was destroyed, survivors blamed God and burned every Bible in the world.  Nevermind it’s the most published book of all time and I could probably go in my back yard, start digging and find one hidden in a coffee can.  Even if they did burn all the Bibles, there’s plenty of other religious texts (prayer books, hymnals, even works of fiction) out there that include the Bible’s teachings.  Plus you have the Koran, Bhagvad Gita, Kabbalah, the Veda, Book of Morman and even Scientology texts (shudder) out there that might serve the same purpose.  Were those all burned too?…  Yet they still seem to have lots of unblemished designer sunglasses and plenty of bullets, RPGs and grenades.  The idea that you can wipe out such a staple of humanity and make everyone forget about it is ludicrous. 

However, since I’m classifying this movie as a fable, I think that aspect of it works.  “Equilibrium” likewise had an impossible storyline where future generations force-fed themselves a drug to eliminate emotions so they would no longer get angry and start wars.  I loved that story because I viewed it as a parable.   A cautionary tale meant to teach us a moral lesson about humanity, much like the great sci-fi tales of Ray Bradbury, Philip K. Dick and Harlan Ellison.  You buy their impossible scenarios because the message is more important than the mechanics. 

“Eli” succeeds on that level and even manages a very cool twist at the end.  What doesn’t work is the Mila Kunis character who plays the barmaid who Carnegie throws at Eli as a sexual barganing chip, but she becomes so enchanted by Eli and his prayers that she decides to run away with him.  She doesn’t add much to the story and I could’ve done without her.  The intimidating Ray Stevenson (the new “Punisher”) gets underused and tossed aside like a piece of meat as Carnegie’s right hand man. 

The rest of the story is poorly paced, uneven and doesn’t fully commit to the messages inherent to the film’s concept.  Due to its minimalist presentation, it also doesn’t answer the many questions I had about the concept and the world it resides in.  Creating a story like this requires a deep mythology.  The “Mad Max” series nailed it off.  Even “Waterworld” pulled it off.  “Eli” does not.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed it.  I think Christians might point to it as a positive message and an argument for faith and hope.  Other religions might feel alienated by it and dismiss it as an example of Christian arrogance. 

Personally, I think it will be all but forgotten in a few years.  As a shining example of a post apocalyptic-themed classic, I rank it very low.  Everyone will remember Mad Max.  Eli, not so much. 

3 out of 5 stars

Trailer below…

-Coop

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