If word of the latest Denzel flick had you prepping for another action packed movie with a performance two thirds powerful and one third soulful from our consummate leading man, you wouldn’t be entirely ill prepared.The Book of Eli did build differently than many of the blockbusters, the success of which Denzel has been such a vital contributor. Excluding Training Day, Washington consistently portrays characters with an allegiance to the moral. He takes this vigor for values to a new level when stepping into the shoes of Eli.
The Book of Eli paints a tough picture of a post apocalyptic world, one in which humans have survived only in the highest and lowest regions of the country (and presumably, the globe). We meet Eli in full camouflage, nestled into the leaves of the forest with a bow and arrow, his trademark weapon, where he expertly hunts the mutated looking cat that will be his dinner. Times is rough. He travels peacefully down a wasted desert road, entering the few houses he encounters in search of food, a night’s shelter, and whatever clothing he can claim from the dead bodies within. While Eli is subject to constant movement, the audience is quickly made privy to the one invariable aspect of our protagonist’s journey: he reads his large leather bound book day in and day out, without fail.
And so the journey begins, Eli and his book amid the beautiful solitude of the desert. It isn’t until our first encounter with other people that we flirt with the notion that Denzel’s character might be a little..special. Single handedly taking down an overwhelming number of high jackers with the kind of artful choreography that makes war appear to be an art form, Eli continues on his path without a scratch into one of the Earth’s few organized civilizations. A civilization that is home to both the damsel, Solara, and the villain, Carnegie, in this not so classic, classic progression.
With a bit of persistence and lot of boldness, Solara (Mila Kunis), earns her spot as Eli’s fast learning and faster acting companion. And our villain? Carnegie, played to perfection by Gary Oldman, is a power hungry monarch posing as town mayor. One of the few people on the planet still able to read, he has a legion of illiterate brutes scour the roads for every book they can find in search of the one he desires (you’d be on to something if you assumed it was the book Mr. Washington has in his possession).
An unpleasant encounter with Carnegie’s gang of hooligans in the town’s central bar captures the attentions of Carnegie and his eventual knowledge that Eli possesses the key to his success. A chase across country ensues, during which Eli will defy the odds, kick some more ass, and shock audiences into submission when a gape worthy truth is revealed at journey’s end. And the book? The secret to Eli’s calm command and the key to Carnegie’s ruthless pursuit for mass control? The Holy Bible.
With The Book of Eli, faith trumps sight and impossible is only a state of mind. While the film builds more slowly than some of those which Denzel fans may be accustomed to, nothing is lost to this element on account of the intensity and surprise value the film ultimately provides. I’d recommend it to anyone who appreciates a good fight scene as well as some depth of inspiration. And an all star cast certainly doesn’t hurt the mix either.