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Movie Review: The Book of Eli

BY TOMMY MORGAN JR. | JANUARY 18, 2010 7:30 AM

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*** 1/2 out of *****

Is there room for faith after Armageddon?

The Book of Eli manages to tackle this question in an entertaining manner in its view of postapocalyptic America.

One of the rare people born before the war that sent the Earth into its postapocalyptic state, Eli (Denzel Washington) is a man shrouded in mystery. He constantly travels, but no one knows where or why. At a time when any book, even The Da Vinci Code, is highly regarded by those few who can read, Eli carries with him the rarest book of all: the last remaining copy of the Bible.

Of course, there are people, including evil Mayor Carnegie (Gary Oldman), who want to use it to further subjugate humanity. As Carnegie chases Eli, Eli knows to do only one thing — continue his mission from God at all costs.

Washington turns in a capable performance as Eli, but he doesn’t really dazzle viewers as he should.

The role of Eli seems a perfect combination for him, putting together his action exploits in such movies as Man on Fire with the more human side he shows in such films as Malcolm X. However, perhaps because of the stoicism of the character, Washington doesn’t really show much of anything other than that.

Oldman as Carnegie is at times brilliant, but he plays the role with too much insanity, acting more madman than evil genius.

In creating their vision of a postapocalyptic world, the makers of Eli keep it simple. Instead of the crazy society in Mad Max or the utter bleakness of The Road, the world of Eli has a more modest touch. It is essentially the real world destroyed. Bars are still bars, and people live in hollowed-out houses and department stores. It’s more realistic (as realistic as a movie can be in showing nuclear apocalypse), and therefore more enjoyable.

The one glaring problem with the film is its overt and annoying product placement. Eli uses KFC hand wipes, comes across a Busch beer truck — logo still colorful and bright, as if the bridge it was driving on hadn’t been destroyed 30 years prior — and even listens to an iPod.

With its lack of over-the-top CGI and special effects, Eli doesn’t seem like it would be an expensive movie, outside of paying for Washington and Oldman. However, with all of the product placement, it’s hard not to wonder if the movie’s budget wasn’t just some spare change the studio found in an executive’s couch cushion. While the placements may reflect the look and feel of the modern-but-destroyed world Eli inhabits, with frequent close-ups and crystal clear logos, they are just too much at times.

The lesson of Eli — that belief can accomplish anything — is clear, but not in an overly preachy way.

Eli is Christian, but in the film this appears more an aesthetic distinction (he had to be something ) than a moral one. The film lacks an overtly Christian tone, and Eli could have just as easily been Muslim or Jewish, or even not religious at all.

In the film, religion is more trope than treasure — a lens through which the lesson is learned, not the lesson itself. For this, Eli has mass appeal, and can be enjoyed by all, not just the Christians for whom it seems designed.


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