With a Bible, Denzel Washington Walks Through the Valley of Death

City Pulse | January 11, 2010
Dystopia--With a Bible

Denzel Washington Walks Through the Valley of Death

The Book of Eli (601 words)

Cole Smithey

Falling on the heels of "The Road," here is a similarly themed vision of a post-apocalyptic dystopia where cannibals and criminals make up what's left of the human species. Survivalist extraordinaire Eli (Denzel Washington) has spent the last 30-years, since the world's final war, walking. In a dusky woods of falling leaves, Eli lies in wait to kill his dinner--sometimes a hairless cat serves the purpose--when he isn't reading from the bible that he lugs around with a giant knife and a sawed-off shot gun. A late inciting incident brings Eli face to face with criminal kingpin, and book-fanatic, Carnegie (Gary Oldman). Carnegie sizes up Eli as a man of secrets, and sends in his adopted daughter Solara (Mila Kunis) to act as a prostitute/spy. Eli rebuffs her affection, but unintentionally lets her see the hefty bible he possesses. It isn't long before Carnegie and his ruffians are in hot pursuit of Eli and his new traveling partner Solara. The glorified chase plot finally runs out of gas when Malcolm McDowell shows up as librarian collector of literary artifacts who has most of a set of Encyclopedia Britannica, but not a single copy of a bible. The story never allows for any kind of unity of opposites to develop between Eli and Carnegie, who might have some latent redeeming quality since he so ferociously covets the word of the Lord.

"The Book of Eli" has a biblical ring to it, what with the ill behavior of Eli's sons causing God to curse all of Eli's lineage. At least that's what happened in the bible. Newbie screenwriter Gary Whitta cares little for any kind of biblical references that might weigh down what is really more of a neo-western than a convincing measure of dystopic reality. This isn't a Samuel L. Jackson gospel-spewing potboiler after all, and Denzel Washington somehow seems a more capable post-apocalyptic hero. The Hughes brothers directing team are more interested in a firing Gatlin guns and RPGs than imparting thematic logic or character development. Eli is a loner bad-ass with a bible, and if that isn't good enough for an audience to empathize with, then the exit doors are located at the front and rear of the cinema.

The highlight of the story comes when the stoic, and celibate, Eli attempts to enter a seemingly abandoned house in the middle of nowhere with his new best friend Solara. The farmhouse is inhabited by a crazy old married couple who have successfully taken special precautions to keep out, or capture, marauding bandits. They might be eccentric cannibals, but this couple knows how to serve tea to their would-be prey. Sadly, for the couple, Carnegie and his troops show up with more guns and ammunition than the momentarily impressive arsenal, hidden in the couple's living room couch, provides. Thousands of rounds of ammo rip through the house, making enough perforations for entire walls to fall away. If it had been Bonnie and Clyde in the house, they'd have been dead in the first minute, but Eli has a lucky streak when it comes to escaping bullets. No explanation is ever given for Eli's miraculous resiliency, except that he is eventually presented as a kind of prophet whose message might simply be that all goodhearted survivors should walk the earth carrying a copy of the bible. I suppose, in the future, bibles aren't allowed on airplanes anymore.

Rated R. 115 mins. (C+) (Two Stars - out of five--no halves)
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