The Book of Eli (2010) Review

[dropcap size=big]A[/dropcap] January release usually doesn’t bode well for any film. The month is so far away from award season that barely anyone can remember what they liked about a film – if they liked anything at all. Also, audience turnout is typically lower in January, because the masses are still recovering from the holidays. These two realities didn’t bode well for The Book of Eli, but the film also had a few things going for it as well. Namely, it had two film industry heavyweights, competent directors and an engaging story and universe. Tragically, the elements just don’t come together, succeeding only in perpetuating the January stereotype.

In the future, civilization has been obliterated by warfare. Survivors exist in small, rough towns or as road bandits, waylaying hapless travelers. One such traveler is Eli (Denzel Washington), who is the ultimate survivalist and is extremely handy with a blade. He believes he is on a holy mission to deliver the last Bible in existence to some unknown group in the west. Unfortunately for Eli, a man named Carnegie (Gary Oldman), who controls a small town with an iron fist, wants the Bible for himself – believing that people will obey him if he reads the words from the book. Now Eli – with the help of Carnegie’s rebellious stepdaughter, Solara (Mila Kunis) – must elude Carnegie and his thugs and somehow survive the wasteland to complete his mission.

Religious viewers will no doubt equate Eli to the Prophet Elijah who appears in many different faiths. Elijah is prophesized to return “before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord,” thus Eli appears after a global war has annihilated much of humanity. Atheists and secularists may not enjoy The Book of Eli because of its heavy religious theme; however, general audiences will take issue because the film focuses on preaching first and telling a believable story second.

It’s always a shame when characters don’t behave in the way one would expect the average person to given the situation. When an important character is mortally wounded only to be found walking along the road later, no one questions this. It’s also unbelievable that people would start actively burning Bibles after the war, making Eli’s Bible the last one. One would think that survivors of a holocaust would have better things to do than try to make a political statement. Furthermore, Carnegie’s motivation is also suspect. He wants the Bible because of its ability to attract followers, yet he seems to be doing just fine using a water source as leverage. Why even bother with the Bible that puts someone or something else above him as the ultimate dealer of life and death? In the end, The Book of Eli feels more like a simplistic, post apocalyptic parable – with single-dimension characters who have no arc – rather than a satisfying film.

The acting is adequate throughout, but not dazzling. Denzel Washington, for all his many talents, seems to play himself here. He’s a badass when he needs to be and sympathetic and endearing most other times. Washington plays Eli competently, but audiences will feel like they’ve seen this performance before. Gary Oldman does a fantastic job of crafting a nuanced character and he’s enjoyable to watch. Unfortunately, he’s not quite as ruthless as he needs to be; his idea of torturing people is to simply grab them by the hair. Mila Kunis, unfortunately, is just a token pretty face to add some eye-candy to the joyless landscape. Her transformation into Ray Ban-wearing wasteland warrior may incite a few titters among viewers.

One of the film’s strongest points is its visuals. The Book of Eli looks amazing and is utterly convincing as a post apocalyptic United States. The environment is mostly barren, punctuated by crumbling infrastructure. The color is desaturated, giving the landscape a proper bleached look and feel. Finally, the costume design and makeup effects completely sell the wastelander look with the latest in survivalist couture.

The direction is hit and miss. Individual scenes are visually compelling, but also feel inert, starting with the beginning of the film. A little too much time is invested just to watch Eli kill and eat a cat. The action sequences, however, are done very well. One inspired fight scene is done in silhouette beneath the shadow of an overpass. Another fight scene features brutal, decapitations while the climactic action sequence is captured in long takes with the camera impossibly, yet seamlessly moving around the set.

Finally, the twist revealed at the end of the film is also hard to believe and is a perfect example of dealing unfairly with viewers. Unfortunately, the twist is critical to the story, which makes it particularly treacherous. In the end, however, since The Book of Eli is faith-based, all of the inconsistencies can simply be explained away as being the power of God allowing these improbabilities to happen. While that explanation “works” it certainly isn’t satisfying – and audiences will definitely feel that way when they leave the theater.

On the upside, I predict the sale of designer sunglasses to skyrocket.

Editor-in-Chief/Publisher
  1. Editor’s Note: SPOILERS IN THIS COMMENT

    I thought the movie was great. I also think Mr. Garcia missed a couple of things in the movie.
    There were plenty of clues to reveal the twist. In fact there were a couple of clues for the twist in those “poorly invested minutes” early in the movie. Without giving away the twist too much; 1. even though the cat was well exposed, he didn’t shoot it until after it hissed at him; 2. he heard the mouse and had the mouse come to him. He wouldn’t have been able to chase after the mouse. 3. He didn’t wake up until he felt the sun on his face. Daylight alone didn’t wake him.
    There were plenty of other clues (smelling assailants, hearing the bird, standing tall in the gun battle.) So the twist wasn’t so far fetched with so many clues laying around.
    I agree that the action scenes were well done. I especially liked the two Mr. Garcia pointed out: the sillouette figght scene; and the fire fight scene at the house.)
    Solara’s transformation isn’t so unreasonable when you consider that Eli did not abuse her, saved her from further trauma, introduced her to something inspirational when she likely had no hope and she heard him recite everything from his book. Isn’t her transformation the type of transformation that the Bible says is available to all of us?
    I think the simplicity of the story is not a detriment to the movie. Eli’s faith a devotion to his calling is a powerful message.
    I concur that people will invest in post-modern shades.

  2. Editor’s Note: SPOILERS IN THIS COMMENT

    @Jay:

    Thanks for reading and thanks for your comment. First let me just state that I always enjoy how people presume that I didn’t enjoy a movie, because I must have “missed something.” Don’t take that too personally; I’m just poking fun at you. Secondly, of course there are clues that help make the twist believable, but there is more evidence to mislead you away from the twist. There are certain things that blind people just don’t do — like look at things. Watch a film like Scent of a Woman and you’ll see how a blind person behaves. There’s no reason for Eli to hold the iPod up to his face or look at the mouse.

    Also, my point about Solara is that she suddenly turns into a knife-wielding road warrior when she’s only spent two days in the wastes, which was unbelievable — and probably not what the Bible tells us to emulate.

  3. I really wanted to enjoy this film, but there were a few fundamental problems with it that marred an otherwise decent movie going experience. I’ll try not to spoil it, for what it’s worth.

    1) The twist could be removed and it would make just as much sense. The hints to this are forgettable, and really, it’s not the least bit important to the plot except to throw a wrench in Oldman’s plans. How very convenient.

    2) Oldman could have been much more assertive. I’m not calling for gratuitous violence – I just didn’t feel like he was a “bad guy” so much as a “somewhat bad guy / unenthusiastic villian”. I know he’s got it in him to go over the top when playing a true villian – it would have been nice to see more effort in this character.

    3) Kunis was another convenience more than substantial character. If they’d let it alone before her final walk off it would have felt less forced.

    4) Who wanders the wastelands without a dog? Washington needed a dog. It could have been a seeing-eye dog and lo, the plot holes would make sense with less randomness. Yes, there was the “A Boy and his Dog” poster – but where’s the can of Dinky-Di?

    All in all, I don’t regret seeing it, but it really felt like a bunch of convenient coincidences glued together with a few entertaining combat sequences. This film would benefit from picking a side – and I don’t mean in the religious sense – be a well produced romp in post apocalyptic / survivalist world, or be a straight to video religious story masquerading as a legitimate movie.

  4. Editor’s Note: THIS COMMENT CONTAINS SPOILERS!

    Yet, another excellent movie from Denzel. You guys can talk about all the holes in the movie that appear to be fictional, but if you’re a true believer in Christianity, everything doesn’t have to make sense. And I think that’s exactly what they tried to show.

    We understand that the average blind man cannot possess such talent. BUT, a blind man that walks in Gods faith is able to do the unthinkable. Good job Denzel!

  5. Editor’s Note: THIS COMMENT CONTAINS SPOILERS!

    @Dom:

    Thanks for reading and for your comment. You’ve touched on the very reason why the film is dissatisfying. The point of storytelling is drama — conflict. There must be a possibility for the protagonist to fail, otherwise there’s no point in telling the story. Imagine watching a Superman movie without Kryptonite. How satisfying would that be? “Oh, Superman wins again. Yay.”

    Furthermore, if you’re going to go with the “God gave him the power” argument, why stop with giving a blind man better accuracy than a sighted person? Why not let Eli fly or be able to catch bullets with his teeth? You can argue that “true believers” would still appreciate that, but is that satisfying storytelling?

  6. In response to the idea that Eli’s “power” shouldn’t have stopped at a few talents and that he should have flown or caught bullets with his teeth – I think this would change the idea of the story. Our world’s historical prophets were not superheroes, but regular people. Eli’s subtle special protection is just right.

    I liked this subtlety – Carnagie was not a strong villian, Eli was not a strong prophet (he admitted he lost himself in his mission and forgot what the words of the Bible meant). It’s a little unbelievable, but not too unbelievable.

  7. @Lan:

    Thanks for reading and your comment. I don’t really mind Eli being protected by God. That’s totally cool, but Eli should have had some kind of weakness. The most obvious one would have been questioning his faith or perhaps going out of his way to murder someone out of revenge. This plot would illustrate man’s imperfection and sin, but also Christ’s forgiveness. Now that I’m rehashing the movie in my mind, I guess my bigger complaint is that it didn’t go far enough with the religion.

  8. I just saw the movie and I agree that there were a few holes that left me somewhat wanting from a story perspective, however from a faith perspective, it did inspire me.
    As regards Eli’s weakness, I think it was there in the scene where he tells himself to keep on the path, that it was not his concern. I think his weakness and the weakness of many of us Christians is a singleminded focus and forgetting the basic message of Christ which is love. By not reacting and caring about the woman in that scene because of his need to go west, he allowed evil to persist…it was a moment of epiphany for me. I have been in that situation myself many times and how many times have I told myself it was not my concern.

    In any event, not to preach or anything but when I came back the scripture I read was Isaiah 58 verse 7…and I was once again, challenged out of my complacency.

    Be well. Lifelovefaith.com

  9. @kenzy:

    Thanks for reading and for your thoughtful comment. From a faith perspective, I totally agree. The film takes the song Amazing Grace to a literal level.

    As far as not helping others even though a part of you may have wanted to goes, have you considered that perhaps it was God who convinced you not to help? Sometimes people have to suffer in order to serve a greater purpose. That’s not to say that I completely buy into the whole God thing. I’m just tossing this thought out there for you to mull over. I hope you come by again.

  10. Editor’s Note: THIS COMMENT CONTAINS SPOILERS!

    Hello,

    I think that everyone is entitled to their opinion and I can appreciate yours.

    He is mine: Regarding your response to Dom’s remark, “There must be a possibility for the protagonist to fail, otherwise there’s no point in telling the story. Imagine watching a Superman movie without Kryptonite. How satisfying would that be? “Oh, Superman wins again. Yay.”

    I will say this, Eli (Denzel) is just a man. It was clearly stated by Carnegie (Gary Oldman) after the first gun fight scene. It was proven when he shot Eli after the gun fight at the house. When he shot Eli, he left him there lying in the sun, wounded, and to die. Since Eli had already explained to Solara (Mila Kunis) that he was walking by FAITH NOT SIGHT, he was letting the audience know that whatever he did, he was doing for God WITHOUT KNOWING what was to come and with complete assurance that God would take care of him.

    He never claimed to be stronger than the average man and I do not believe that the movie portrayed him that way. Most blind people have far greater senses that us seeing people do not exploit as well, such as smell, touch, taste and hearing…that is why he could out shoot the average shooting person, he could hear their movements and smell them before they could aim straight enough to see him. Eli had been traveling and probably fighting for the last 30 years so his experience alone is far greater than those that were born AFTER the apocolyptic event that has brought them to this point in time.

    I believe that the true nature of the story was captured and if people stop looking for petty reasons as to why the movie was not great to them, just pay attention to the essence of the story which was simply to have faith.

    Eli was walking by faith, taking his orders from God, and believing that if he did so with all of his might, he would complete his task. And so he did. That’s just my two cents. I also believe that Jay made some valid points as well. Carry on good people!!!

  11. Editor’s Note: THIS COMMENT CONTAINS SPOILERS!

    @Mechele:

    Thanks for reading and thanks for your comment. Just a couple of things: I always enjoy how people can “think” they’re being so open-minded, but in reality are quite the opposite. “Everyone is entitled to their opinion,” you state. “I can appreciate yours.” Then you conclude your opinion with “stop looking for petty reasons.” Those who disagree with you are petty? Hardly.

    Your argument that Eli was “just a man” and “never claimed to be stronger than the average man” is overlooking the speech Eli gives to Solara about “hearing the voice inside him” that told him nothing could harm him. This was the conversation that took place just minutes after we watched several experienced gunmen miss him. It’s pretty obvious that Eli is protected by on high, especially when Carnegie’s number one guy can’t seem to shoot him. Lets also not forget that Eli inexplicably escaped his cell. Ultimately, what we have here is a hero that cannot lose.

    That’s not to say that “the hero that cannot lose” can’t make for a satisfying story. Think of all the “avenger back from the dead” movies. Those films are enjoyable in their own right, but that plot doesn’t work here. Getting shot in the stomach or gut is no joke. It’s basically a death sentence. If you look at old pictures of Civil War soldiers dead on the battlefield, you’ll see that their clothes are in disarray — as if someone rumaged them for valuables. In truth, the soldiers were checking to see if they were shot in the gut, because they knew nothing could be done to save them.

    Eli should have been dead long before he was able to recite the entire Bible. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried reading the Bible. It takes a very long time. Now imagine how long it would take to recite the Bible slow enough so that an old man could transcribe your words by hand. How did Eli survive that long and even have time to shave? The answer: God kept him alive. Eli may not have been Superman, but the guy protecting him certainly was.

    Also, I just want to poke fun at your defense of Eli being blind and how blind people make better use of their other senses — to the point of being able to out-shoot sighted people. I don’t care how you spin it, in almost all of the situations portrayed in the film being blind is a disadvantage. Otherwise, we’d all be poking our eyeballs out at birth since our other senses would more than make up for the lack of sight.

    If the film really wanted to capture the faith aspect, then Eli should have died shortly after he was shot. Solara should have found him and he could hand the mission over to her, giving her his iPod which would have an audio version of the Bible. She would be confused and unsure if she could complete the mission and Eli would tell her “to have faith.” Now THAT would have worked for me from a storytelling aspect, because now we have a secondary protagonist that has no concept of religion and has no reason to believe in a higher power. She hasn’t been indoctrinated by stories of miracles or celebrated Christmas. Yet she goes.

    I don’t know about you, but my alternate story line is much more satisfying than, “Hey, God told me I’d be cool. Now watch me dodge these bullets.”

  12. Well, as far as my comment goes “stop looking for petty reasons”, I simply felt as if you didn’t capture the essence of the story and you find every reason to put the movie down. That’s just my opinion. You seem VERY offended by what I had to say. It’s just MY OPINION. You can analyze it all day and it wouldn’t matter at all. The same goes for me 😉

    I don’t even know how I came across this site…lol…I was looking for somethiing else and found other people’s comments interesting…

    In MY OPINION, your ending is ridiculous, Eli dies, then Solara finds him, he gives her something (mind you he’s dead), and he tells her to “have faith” (again he’s dead),and she carries out the mission that once again God CHOSE HIM FOR…I don’t think so…It’s predictable and dry. Y

    et and still that’s why you blog about the movies instead of write them 😉

    Have a better than great day!

  13. @Mechele:

    Offended? Not at all. Just pointing out something you were oblivious to. (And still are apparently.)

    God chose him for the mission, but even Eli says he got too caught up in his mission that he forgot to practice what the Bible preached — which is presumably why he was “punished” and got shot in the gut. So there you have it: Eli is chosen by God for a task, he fails to perform to God’s satisfaction, he’s punished with death, but *before* he dies (emphasis for those can’t grasp the obvious) Eli redeems himself by passing the mission on to Solara. Remember, this is God we’re talking about. He doesn’t need Eli to do anything for him. If God wanted to He’d just come down himself or send an angel to drop a fresh Bible off. Anyway, not only is that more satisfying, but it gives Solara more of a reason to be in this movie instead of just a pretty face.

    Lastly, I’d just like to thank you for coming by again! For someone who seems so nonchalant about my site, you certainly are attracted to it. To help you out, you came to my site because you were searching for “the book of elijah denzel blind” in Google. By the amount of times you keep visiting the page, I’d say you were in love with me. 😉

    The only way my day could get better is if you came by again. 😀 In many ways, you make me feel like a teacher instructing a small child in the ways of the world.

  14. THIS COMMENT CONTAINS SPOILERS:

    So it’s hard to believe about the twist at the end? Why? Because it has to do with God? If his ability to be blind yet have skills to fight as he did were explained away by the flash or some other mystical happening then it would probably be okay…but because it’s “God” you have a problem with it.

    He was “punished?” Um…where in the world do you come up with that conclusion? I believe you are off base on that.

    As far as Solara goes, I took it that she is on a mission to take the truth of the Bible back home. Along the way she will encounter many of the same things she did on the way in and will not have Eli with her. But just like many times in the Bible when people were outnumbered or outskilled, those who were a part of God’s mission still prevailed. While killing people is probably NOT her goal, she takes the weapons to DEFEND herself. And how do you know she did not have a reason to believe? Remember, Eli recited the whole Bible from memory in order for it to be rewritten. Is it a possibility that she heard God’s Word and believed? Romans 10:17 states, “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” How long did it take for the whole Bible to be rewritten? Did she ask a lot of questions? Did she see the truth? It’s not that hard to believe if you think about. But then again, there is a faith factor. But if you have enough faith to believe that the whole universe is an accident, then you probably have enough faith. It just depends on where you place it.

  15. Editor’s Note: THIS COMMENT CONTAINS SPOILERS!

    @Joe:

    Thanks for reading and your comment. I think you’re assuming too much about me and getting a little too defensive with your faith. My problem with the Eli being blind has nothing to do with the faith aspect. In fact, faith is the only semi-satisfying explanation for Eli’s ability. My problem is that Eli did not behave like a blind person. Yes, there are clues that he is blind, like over-developed smelling. However, there’s visual evidence that he is not blind, like the fact that he looks at things. So the issue for me is not the fact that he is guided by God. It’s that the movie isn’t dealing fairly with the audience. It doesn’t matter if his “ability” is granted by God, radiation or a fairy godmother.

    As I stated in a previous comment, I don’t think the film went far enough in the religious aspect. I say forget the whole “look how clever we are” twist and just show us that Eli is blind from the beginning. Have him deflecting bullets with his sword or running across water. Let’s literally show the power of God and make it clear as to why Carnegie would want that power for himself.

    As far as your other points go, I’m going to let you have the last word on them. It’s obvious that your faith is strong enough to insert several assumptions to make the story palatable and I have a feeling that we’re just going to go around in circles.

  16. Sorry if I came off defensive…I didn’t mean to. I actually sat and thought about what you said with Solara and wondered the same thing…then I realized how long it probably had been since they got there, etc. Before that, I hadn’t thought about it – so you at least got me thinking.

    And I think the reason the film didn’t go far enough into explaining the faith aspect, may be because of the level of faith of the writer, director, etc. It’s likely (and I am assuming here, partially due to the language and other factors) that they may not be those who we would look at as role models of faith. But, if I am wrong for this assumption then I am willing to be corrected.

    Thanks.

  17. For someone like myself, who doesn’t get to frequent movies. It felt nice to see something that was “inspirational”. I do agree the twist left me going back to “looking at the mouse” and such. I may just be slow, but I thought he could have had cataracts or one blind eye. My point is this, you have movies like Passion and movies like The book of Eli. Either way if you are looking for Faith. Finding it a theater is only a seed, for planting. Asking about God and filling your life with what the Bible teaches. Well that my friends is a step of Faith and a whole other ball game.

  18. IJust wanted to take this time and point out some things that might of been missed in the movie by the viewers. Because last part of the movie created the whole controversy. When his eye seem to aluminate. Everything he did through out the movie indicated him having sight. 1. When he shot the cat with an bowing arrow. 2. When he feeds the mouse and said if you want it you have to come and get it and watch the mouse come to him. Isn’t that irony the mouse eats the cat. Here it is, through out the movie you were taught about faith and believing in god. Through your trials tribulations he will make a way. So after being shot in the adomin Eli was dying. So their for he couldn’t re sight the whole bible while a person wrote it word for word.when His eye started to aluminate letting the audience know that he was being taking over by the holly spirit. I hope this has cleared up any speculation one might have had.

  19. You have the typical liberal socialist view point. You believe the mind is not critical (only the water supply) there fore you white wash it’s importance. Conversely conservatives believe only the mind is important. Carnegie is trying to control men’s minds as he control’s the water supply. Did you even watch the movie. You’re review is shamefull. Average person mortally wounded walking down the road????!!?? Are you retarded? WHAT HAVE YOU WRITTEN? Cause unless you say citizen Cane. Shut the fuck up. Eli wasn’t average. Liked to see what you do. What master pieces have you written. Don’t bash a film when you are probably some half assed film teacher who hasn’t done a damn thing. Your review is dissappointing at best.

  20. @Jon:

    Thank you for (sort of) reading. I typically would have edited your comment into something ridiculous, but I don’t think I can do a better job than you already have. To answer your question, I did watch the movie. Judging by your poor writing ability I have a feeling that your reading comprehension isn’t high enough to quite grasp my review. Furthermore, I am not a world class chef, but I can tell when a dish doesn’t taste good. If my review were more positive I wonder if you would question my credentials.

    Since you have decided to make assumptions about me I will do the same for you. I’ll guess that you’re very religious, but don’t understand why and that makes you fragile. So whenever someone has an argument against your views or, in this case, something that reinforces your beliefs your response is to name-call. Once again, I’m just guessing, but I’ll also say that despite your prickly personality religion probably has a an overall positive effect on your life and without it you’d probably be in prison or worse.

  21. I Do believe Eli character was blind. When I say it to my friends. They didn’t agree. I never made up my mind before or time of watching. That is how I enjoyed this Eli Movie. Its really a refinement experience. Instead of searching for Good or bad, Like, Dislike I just gone through it. Whatever I watched. Its naturally reflect in me further. I have my personal experience with my Visually challenged friends. They do using their other sense extraordinarily. Thus their protection. I should Say a ”BIG THANKS TO DIRECTOR OF BOOK OF ELI” And I hope director will create more quality movies like this.Thanks once again.

    sculptor prasad/India

  22. Elisha followed Elijah just how Solara did Eli in this movie. I believe it was actually Elisha that who begged to follow Elijah, and Elijah was like “ok, but hurry up” lol. When Elijah was taken by God, Elisha picked up his mantle and assumed the role as prophet.

    This is what Solara did at the end of the movie. It would be difficult to understand if one doesn’t know the source material (ie the story of Elijah).

    It’s funny seeing this movie for the nth time I am just realizing the Elijah parallel (studying the bible so don’t judge me!).

    So many other things, Eli being blind but doing amazing things. The phrase “walk by faith, not by sight” comes to mind.

  23. Correction, Elijah knew Elisha was going to be his successor and sought him out. When Elisha found out he pretty much dropped everything (his life on the farm) to follow Elijah.

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