The first feel-good, post-apocalyptic, religious thriller of the year (unless you hate Christians, deplore gun violence, and/or love book burnings.)
Eli (Denzel Washington) appears to be a drifter on the road with an unknown destination to the west. Walking across the former United States following a devastating attack decades earlier, Eli has a mission and carries a very special book, one that has been lost for some time but that some men understand the power of. While looking like a lone, easy target for robbers and highwaymen, Eli issues his warning with a collective calm: he doesn’t want any trouble. For those who fail to heed, they find out too late that he’s a mean, mother-f***ing servant of God.
Here’s a film that very few studios would even attempt to make in today’s politically correct climate, the story of a devout man trying to protect the last Bible that might actually exist. As the story suggests, words have power, whether they’re in the right hands or the wrong ones. In stark contrast to Gary Oldman’s villainous turn in seeking the book for nefarious purposes, Eli’s true path is a mystery but one he is resolved to. The result is an edge-of-your-seat thinking thriller with miraculous implications that stumbles towards the end but ultimately shines through.
Part of the success in actually getting this film made rests with one of its executive producers, Denzel Washington himself. The plot is fueled with the very-current undermining of all things Christian (because no one in Hollywood dare mention Islam or Judaism as being agenda driven or in any way fundamentally or fanatically represented as villainous.) The opposing intents of the two main characters as for the use of Eli’s book serves to demonstrate that it isn’t the words themselves but rather the intent with which they are distributed and made to serve. It’s a powerful statement, especially in light of the sheer number of fire arms spent throughout the production (and as you’ll see, completely necessary.)
It’s no secret that Hollywood is running out of good villains, and as the global obsession with The DaVinci Code proved, the tenants of religion can still power a story that can shake the pillars of heaven (with apologies to Jack Burton.) While The Book of Eli is unmistakably a vehicle for entertainment, it’s refreshing to see it fueled with the need to preserve the religious scripture of every faith as a means of restarting a dying society. Whether you believe in the invisible man upstairs or not, Eli suggests that while one man’s faith may be enough to save humanity, knives and guns go a long ways towards staying alive long enough to do it.
(a three skull recommendation out of four)