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The Book of Eli (2010) ***

January 23, 2010

The Book of Eli (2009) poster 


written by: Gary Whitta
produced by: Broderick Johnson,  Andrew A. Kosove, Joel Silver, David Valdes & Denzel Washington
directed by: Albert & Allen Hughes
Rated R for some brutal violence and language.
118 min.
U. S.  release date: January 15, 2010

After experiencing the sepia-saturated world of “The Book of Eli”,  I wanted to immediately go back knowing what I knew. It’s not that a lawless and illiterate, post-apocalyptic wasteland is attractive to me (well, I do like those kind of movies), it’s just that the inventive twist at the end had me smiling. Not since “The Sixth Sense” has a twist ending like this one made me want to see a movie again….immediately. That’s exactly what a good twist should make you want to do. The twist should make sense as it slaps you upside the head. But the surprise twist at the end is just one of many reasons to check out this grand and grimy world. Some may feel post-apocalyptic fatigue by now, this is a film that doesn’t feel like just another addition to that genre.

This is the rare film that thankfully doesn’t give it all the away in the trailer. As usual, the less you know going in, the better. Here’s what can be told….

Some cataclysmic event happens to the world some thirty years from now that destroys civilization as we know it. Described as “the flash”, it could’ve been man’s doing or the wrath of God. Regardless, what remains is a charred and scarred earth. On it walks a wanderer named Eli (Denzel Washington), a scraggly-faced loner heading west carrying precious cargo in his backpack. It is a book (hence the film’s title) that Eli is well-equipped to defend from anyone who crosses his path. Brandishing a weapon for any situation, he takes out any roadside marauders or hijackers who stand in the way of his righteous mission. Like a Kurosawa samurai in a dusty Western, this is a man of few words, unafraid to show both kindness and the sharp end of his blade.

In need of supplies, Eli’s quest takes him to a dusty town filled with scum and villainy run by a wily character named Carnegie (Gary Oldman), who happens to be one of the few literate people left. Carnegie has a thing for books, sending his goons led by Redridge (Ray Stevenson) to scavenge the land in search of a particular book. It just so happens, the book he really desires is in Eli’s possesion, thinking that with this Book he can motivate and persuade men more than his fear tactics can. He has aspirations to control much more than he currently does and knows that in such a desperate and illiterate world, the people will follow him if he uses the right words.


We’re introduced to others in this town who flesh out such desperation and illiteracy. There’s Carnegie’s blind mistress, Claudia (Jennifer Beals) who is more like a hostage and one he uses to persuade her daughter, Solara (Mila Kunis, bringing some humanity to the story) to do as he wishes. When Carnegie realizes that Eli cannot be hired, charmed, or wooed by Solara, he sends all his men after Eli and his book. Through a whirlwind of decapitations, amputations and shoot-outs, Carnegie realizes this guys is not gonna go down easy. Solara  is a woman who knew nothing of life before “the blast”. She realizes that Eli may be the only way out of a town without hope and soon becomes his unwanted traveling partner. As they are pursued, Solara becomes more and more curious about the book as she yearns to know how Eli is able to survive despite such perilous surroundings.

It’s hard to come up with a different take on a post-apocalyptic film, but here is a film that isn’t as bleak as others. While there is despair here there is also hope, something seldom seen in this genre. Detroit natives, the Hughes brothers (“From Hell” & “Menace II Society”), bring their previous experiences to use here by us something that’s not too familiar. Working from a smart script by Gary Whitta, Albert and Allen Hughes have made a film that is faith affirming with theological metaphors without slapping the viewer upside the head. They basically bring a violent graphic novel to monochromatic life that doesn’t lose focus on the story’s characters.


It helps that they have actors like Washington and Oldman to work with. Washington is an easy sell as an action hero but it’s his subtle nuances which attracts us to his character. At no point does his character lose his air of mystery about him. The more we learn about him the more we wonder what he’s about. It’s great to see Oldman back in his infectious villain mode, a role that you can clearly tell he is having fun with.

This is a fine film with a lot going for it. I’ve purposely not given away some of the best elements of the film on purpose. There are still films out there that can surprise you with not only a solid story but also one in which special effects do not overwhelm or compensate for any other weaknesses. I enjoyed how Whitta made it clear that not everyone who holds the Book can do Good with it. As I previously stated, this is one worth repeated viewings and strong word-of mouth. Usually in January, studios are dumping all their duds (I’m talkin’ to you “Legion!) in theaters, so this is refreshing. While the violence may not be for everyone, it makes sense for the world the characters inhabit. “The Book of Eli” is not only fun to watch but also leaves you thinking about what you just saw.

The Book of Eli (2009) poster 2 

The Book of Eli (2009) poster Denzel 

The Book of Eli (2009) poster Kunis 

The Book of Eli (2009) poster Oldman 

The Book of Eli (2009) poster Japanese 

8 Comments leave one →
  1. windi permalink
    January 23, 2010 1:10 pm

    I definitely want to go see this one. Wonder if I could convince Matt to let me go see it by myself this week sometime…. hmmmmmmmm…..

    • David J. Fowlie permalink*
      January 23, 2010 2:23 pm

      do it!

  2. Eve permalink
    January 24, 2010 7:15 pm

    Yikes! I know that eyeball! Your inSIGHT is spot on. Thanks for savin’ me some dough during these tough economic times;)

    • windi permalink
      January 24, 2010 10:54 pm

      his picture is great, isn’t it? it’s saying “LISTEN TO ME!!” :)~

  3. Francesca Carboni Perry permalink
    January 26, 2010 10:16 am

    Oldman is the ultimate flaky villian – I’d like to see him and Dennis Hopper trying to outflake one another in the same movie, with maybe a bit of Walken thrown into the mix. I’m dying to see Eli.

  4. windi permalink
    February 6, 2010 10:53 am

    just finished watching this movie, and I LOVED it. I think that is probably one of the most realistic views of a post-apocolyptic word I’ve seen in a while. Aside from the food issue. Seems to me, humanity couldn’t live 30 years without fruits and veggies, but it’s a minor point. I love how they inserted the whole cannibalism thing into the movie–but subtly because it’s not the main part of the movie….

    And the ending! Wow. I knew there was a surprise ending, but I still totally did not see it coming!! I’m still thinking about the implications! Was Eli….you know? could he possibly have been? I’m going back and trying hard to remember different scenes and see if there were any clues……

    I want to see it again! But I have to send Matt to the movies to watch it first! 🙂


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