'Book of Eli': Oh boy, yet another post-apocalyptic movie 

Jake and Elwood Blues claimed to be on a mission from God, but in “The Book of Eli,” Eli — the rugged road warrior whose ill-defined destiny apparently lies somewhere west of the Mississippi — really believes it.

With the Lord as his shepherd and a King James Bible stashed next to his machete, Eli wanders America’s post-apocalyptic wasteland with a singular purpose: spreading the good word.

It’s easier said than done. “Stay on the path,” Eli (Denzel Washington) mutters as he surveys the skeletal remains of a once-bustling nation, willing himself onward in a lonely, dangerous journey.

Cannibals scour the countryside for easy prey, and there’s Carnegie, a power-hungry tyrant eager to make what’s left of the lower 48 his personal playground.

Carnegie (Gary Oldman) collects ravaged real estate and ruthless thugs, but there’s one thing he doesn’t have — a Bible, the “weapon” he needs to hold sway over the hope-starved masses. He shrewdly regards the book not as a guide to salvation but as a shortcut to mind control, and so he sends his goons to find one.

But where? In the wake of some untold catastrophe, widely attributed to God’s appalling indifference, Bibles have been banished from the land. Eli’s copy is the last of its kind, making it a hot commodity to those old enough to appreciate the power of the gospels.

Yet how quickly people forget. Set just 30 years in the future, “Book of Eli” asks us to believe that the Bible has been all but erased from the public consciousness.

It’s a premise that strains the imagination, but accept it we must, as it sets up the inevitable showdown between two men who do remember: the noble evangelical and the devil incarnate.

Carnegie, who looks to his biography of Mussolini for life lessons, wants the Bible badly enough to kill for it. Eli, who rarely turns the other cheek, is similarly inclined.

If that makes Eli sound like a contradiction of sorts, he is. “Book of Eli” strikes an uneasy balance between righteousness and rage, as its high-minded hero — never boring, thanks to Washington — smites the mortal demons in his path without mercy.
I’m not sure how Eli’s closed-fisted approach will play with Christians raised on gentler themes, much less how they will respond to a movie so humorless and grim.

As post-apocalyptic fantasies go, “Book of Eli” is diverting but familiar — it’s “The Road” with a heftier body count — and it fails to find real significance in Eli’s bloody spiritual odyssey.

 

Movie review
The Book of Eli

Two stars

Starring Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis, Ray Stevenson, Jennifer Beals
Written by Gary Whitta
Directed by Albert and Allen Hughes
Rated R
Running time 1 hour 58 minutes

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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