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With: Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis, Ray Stevenson, Jennifer Beals, Evan Jones, Joe Pingue, Frances de la Tour, Michael Gambon, Tom Waits, Chris Browning, Richard Cetrone, Lateef Crowder, Keith Davis
Written by: Gary Whitta
Directed by: Albert Hughes, Allen Hughes
MPAA Rating: R for some brutal violence and language
Running Time: 118
Date: 01/11/2010

The Book of Eli (2010)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Page Struck

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The hero appears in a lonely, desolate landscape, colored like gray dust. He's good with weapons, good with his fists. He stays out of trouble when it doesn't concern him. He's a loner. He arrives in town, like he's looking for something, like he has something to do. He doesn't offer up any information about himself, and when anyone asks, he answers in short, guarded sentences. To put a point to it, The Book of Eli is a Western that just happens to be set in post-apocalyptic times.

Eli (Denzel Washington) does indeed have something he needs to do. He's carrying a book with him, and he needs to take it West. The book is not named for a while, but it quickly becomes clear that it's The Bible. (Don't worry. The movie has lots of other surprises.) He keeps an iPod with him and likes to listen to Al Green, so he stops in a little town to get it re-charged (he pays for this service with KFC handi-wipes) as well as stocking up on water and other supplies. Unfortunately, this town is run just like an Old West town, with bars and prostitutes, and a guy in charge, the educated Carnegie (Gary Oldman), who is looking for more and more and more power. He has decided that one way to gain power and to keep people in line is to bring back religion. For that he needs a Bible, and no one can find one. Yet.

This of course leads to chases and fights and shootouts, with lots of explosions. The landscape is littered with all kinds of desperate souls, attempting to lay traps for passerby, or cannibals attempting to eat passerby. The movie's most conventional facet is the addition of a pretty young runaway, Solara (Mila Kunis). We get the usual stuff from the hero, "you can't come with me," etc. Eventually she does, and she thankfully provides Eli with someone to talk to.

As directed by twins Allen and Albert Hughes (Menace II Society, From Hell), the movie contains some exceedingly well-crafted action, far better than the usual junky stuff one would expect in this kind of movie. Like the best science fiction tales, it has an underlying agenda, and the twins also handle the Biblical/religious aspect with balance and subtlety. The message never outweighs the movie, although those with some Biblical training will get more out of the film on a first viewing. There's plenty here to chew on. For the most part, it's a much craftier and more thoughtful science fiction picture than Avatar or District 9, and its willingness to let the audience have a little slack will imbue it with a much longer shelf life.

Gary Whitta gets his first writing credit with the screenplay, although Anthony Peckham reportedly did some rewriting. Denzel Washington is powerful as the stoic, loner hero and Gary Oldman happily chews the scenery as the bad guy. The movie gets some cool casting points with memorable roles for Jennifer Beals, Michael Gambon, Tom Waits, and Malcolm McDowell.

Warner Home Video's DVD and Blu-Ray release contains mostly little featurettes about the making of the film and the soundtrack, as well as deleted and extended scenes and other bonuses. Picture and sound quality are tops. A second disc contains a DVD copy and a digital download copy.

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