The Book of Eli is really great: it’s got the apocalypse, it’s got all kinds of murder and death with blood and rolling heads, and it’s got Denzel Washington saying profound things and threats from the Bible. Denzel is the titular Eli, roaming the wasted deserts of America with the last copy of the Bible in his backpack and packing a razor-sharp machete, along with a sawed off shotgun and a rackety old iPod (when Denzel listens to that old song on his headphones, what a great montage!). The movie really delivers a lot stronger than any of the other recent movies about the world ending, and keeps things moving fast for its considerable running time.
The layout of the apocalyptic junk in the desert is great. I don’t understand why Busch would want to be the official beer of the apocalypse, but random product placement is no big deal. The Road and Terminator: Salvation both went for this exact same look, and this movie blows them both out of the water with no problem. A congestion of rusted cars in the desert is stacked just so; blasted highway bridges make great framing shots for a stoic Denzel wandering the wilderness. Why can’t other movies get it right like this? The usual suspects are here, too–road agents in goggles, motorcycle gangs, and the like. An opening shot of Eli hunting makes for a great nuclear winter scene, but doesn’t quite match the overall setting. Atticus Ross (Nine Inch Nails alum) does the soundtrack, and it sounds a lot like the last Nine Inch Nails album, all deep synth and pianos, which works well for this kind of movie.
We can only assume that, in this alternate universe, Sarah Palin became president and used the Bible as an excuse to start World War III, because the survivors have made it their business to burn the remaining copies. Hey, it caused the war that burned a hole in the sky, we have got to get rid of every last single one. Eli has to take his great copy of the Bible all the way across the country to find its rightful place. Of course he runs into a town where head honcho Carnegie (Gary Oldman, doing his usual crazy bad guy routine) and henchman (Ray Stevenson, the guy who played Punisher) cause all kinds of problems with their band of goons. Carnegie wants to use the Bible to expand his political power, justified by the Holy Book.
We all know where this is going, though Denzel wanders the town for a bit. The gadgeteer shop owner is the Gyrocopter pilot from The Road Warrior, which the movie pulls from constantly in the last half. He meets sidekick Solara (Mila Kunis) and her mom (blinded in the war), and beats up all kinds of grungy people at the bar. Soon, Eli will talk with Solara about the rampant materialism of the world before, a nice subtext to the inevitable mayhem, which is well on its way. Before long, it’s high noon in town, and the great action starts in earnest. The shoot-outs are near flawless, the action is all top-notch production stuff. This is all good; the action sets are well thought out, and the vehicle mayhem is real Mad Max stuff.
I won’t spoil the ridiculous ending, but it’ time to point out some of the really glaring issues. First, Eli and Solara stop while walking through the desert to sleep in a nuclear power plant smoke stack. This is stupid on so many different levels, it is hard to comprehend how it made it into this movie. The inside of one of these smoke stacks has machinery and stuff in it, not a flat dirt floor and a fire place, and they don’t have random nuclear power plants standing next to the highway in the desert, and why would you sleep in a nuclear power plant, anyway? It makes for great imagery, but it makes zero sense. The next flub is when a 80s era Suburban flips nearly ten times. After this, Solara starts the car up and goes on her merry way. My family once owned this very vehicle, and I can assure you it would turn to trash and garbage in any accident. I was also confused when Oldman’s goons started shooting a civil war era Gatling gun out the back of their armored truck. I’ll ignore these problems for the higher points of the film–lightning flashing when Eli is shot, for instance, which is great in this kind of Biblical-themed material.
In the incredibly weak (by comparison) third act, we are treated to some awful green screen (they just can’t get it right in any movie ever) and a mustachioed Malcolm McDowell doing his usual shtick. The studio must think the audience cannot follow anything, because Denzel does an awful monologue voice-over at the end which is awful, and that much worse because it is unnecessary. The studio also has to throw in some political correctness at the end, when the Bible is placed on a shelf directly between the Torah and the Koran. Clearly this movie cannot endorse Christianity as the one true religion, which the entire movie implies as a pretext, but that would be much too offensive for the delicate moviegoers. This tacked-on crap is pretty ludicrous, and only touches on the big three religions. And speaking of Christianity, I know a peaceful Prophet would make for a boring movie, but I don’t ever remember the Disciples cutting people’s heads off in Acts. No, this is definitely a job for the Old Testament.