T he Book of Eli tests you from the beginning. How many different ways can the title be twisted -- at least three, it seems, until the very end.
Eli (Denzel Washington) is a lone wanderer of the wastelands headed west on a mission. He also happens to be carrying a very valuable and powerful book, the last of its kind in the post-apocalyptic American landscape. Eli is war-hardened and wise and his proclivity for violence gets him noticed when he wanders into a little town run by Carnegie (Gary Oldman) and essentially wipes out his entire bodyguard unit.
Carnegie is so impressed by Eli's abilities he tries to convince him to stick around by tempting him with the barkeep, Solara (Mila Kunis). When she accidentally lets slip some of the theology Eli taught her during their passionless, platonic night together, Carnegie puts two and two together. Turns out, he's searching for the very same book that Eli is lugging around. The rest of the movie essentially pits Eli and Solara against Carnegie and his crew as they both fight to keep possession of what turns out to be the Bible.
The Book of Eli doesn't offer much originality. While a relief from the Deep Impacts and 2012s of the cinematic world, the movie had the misfortune of being released shortly after The Road, which has a post-apocalyptic setting and storyline. Even more interesting, the washed out scenery and consumption of wild, possibly feral animals, will be familiar to Fallout 3 fans.
That's not to say Eli doesn't have any worthwhile qualities. The overall aesthetic is extremely well executed, with strong acting from the principle cast. The fight sequences are perfectly choreographed and help balance out the storyline's oftentimes sluggish pacing. The script redeems itself regularly, though only with unintentional humour.
Sadly, The Book of Eli walks a very thin line between entertainment and preaching and wavers rather uncomfortably into the realm of religious propaganda fairly often. The Biblical overtones and connotations throughout the film are delivered like a brick to the head -- incredibly obvious, heavy-handed and completely unapologetic.
The Book of Eli is big on some things: sweeping shots of barren landscapes, intense fight scenes and making Denzel Washington look badass. Apparently, though, it's not such a big fan of providing insight to its vague back story or staying away from cliches. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that Eli is protected because he's been specially "chosen" while Carnegie is a bad, power hungy man set on corrupting the only good thing left in the world. The Hughes Brothers did manage to put together an entertaining feature and throw a mind-bending twist at the end that is really quite surprising. And Denzel Washington makes a good badass.