Cross I Am Legend with The Ten Commandments and you’ve got The Book of Eli, a genuinely religious parable that inherently rebukes pointless end-of-the-world movies like The Road. This time there’s a purpose to the post-apocalypse: Eli (Denzel Washington), one of humanity’s survivors, is heeding the word of the Lord to protect the world’s only remaining Bible and bring its teachings to the West.
The Book of Eli works just fine as an action blockbuster, but it’s much more than that. Eli, who can smell lurking “highjackers” determined to rob and kill him long before they get close, is fierce with a machete — the movie is as bloody as any other contemporary R-rated kill-or-be-killed flick — and his fearless strides across the wasted scapes of a broken and infected world are reminiscent of great cowboy movies. He even walks into a small town that looks like the set of one of those backlot Westerns like High Noon.
The chief of this evil place is Carnegie (Gary Oldman), who is seen reading a book on Mussolini, and not because he’s bored. He already wields absolute authority over his little village, but using Il Duce as a model he hopes to become ruler of what remains of the planet. He has sent his illiterate henchmen out into the world with orders to bring back every book they can find. But there’s only one book (besides the Mussolin biography) that matters to Carnegie: The Book. Eli’s Book. Carnegie has heard that this volume can change the world because of its persuasive effects on people, which Carnegie hopes to harness to his own ends. But Eli isn’t giving it up.
Here the movie springs a major plot leak — Carnegie captures Eli, who surrenders to gunmen and spends a night in Carnegie’s jail cell. Carnegie sends first his girlfriend (Jennifer Beals), who is blind, and then the girlfriend’s sexy daughter (Mila Kunis of Forgetting Sarah Marshall) to Eli’s cell to find out who he is. But wouldn’t Carnegie have ordered his men to search Eli’s belongings? The wanderer carries a single backpack. It wouldn’t be hard to discover that he has the world’s only known copy of the Bible.
Yet Eli escapes and in a searing shootout scene proves to be a better shot than Carnegie’s henchmen. A much better shot: there is something about Eli that makes bullets miss.