This plot — The Good, the Bad, and the Holy? — harks back to many a classic actioner, and the third-act revelations are particularly satisfying. But what’s most effective about the movie is its sincerity. Washington, the son of a Pentecostal minister who in a Beliefnet ranking system comes in second only to Mel Gibson among Hollywood’s most powerful Christian celebrities, doesn’t play Eli with a wisp of irony or jokiness. Eli lays out the case plainly: He heard a voice inside his head that gave him his mission. He says he knows who he heard, he knows what he heard, he knows he’s not crazy, and he knows he never would have made it without divine help. He reads the Bible every day and can quote scripture by heart. “That’s beautiful,” exclaims Kunis, whose character is illiterate, when she hears a sample passage. He also quotes a passage about having the strength to carry on. The Kunis character asks if that is from The Book. “No,” says Eli. “It’s Johnny Cash. ‘Live at Folsom Prison.’” God, guns, and Johnny Cash? Blessed be this movie.
Recall The Road, in which a man and his son move ever southward across a destroyed planet for no apparent reason, and The Book of Eli seems like — well, a revelation. Reintroducing God into the equation makes the scorched earth scenario much more interesting because it promises a rebirth, gives a meaning to the destruction of civilization as the crisis that, however painful, must happen to bring about salvation. Secular viewers may cringe — can’t we have more wisecracks and nihilism, please? — but The Book of Eli is going to strike at the very center of the hearts of viewers who have faith in the God of the Bible.
For audiences who wish there were more movies that were inspired by the Bible, movies like Ben-Hur or The Greatest Story Ever Told, but have come to doubt Hollywood could ever make a big-time movie (sorry, Kirk Cameron, but you’re not the star Denzel Washington is) about it, The Book of Eli is a godsend.