After the war there were a few survivors who populated the blasted Earth, and one of those was Eli (Denzel Washington), who was obsessed with travelling into the West because he had a special mission to carry out. But every day was pretty much the same, walking the deserted landscape until he arrived at some kind of shelter for the night, as today when he stumbled upon an abandoned house, which turned out to still have its owner inside - having hanged himself in a closet. His death was an opportunity for Eli to appropriate his boots, but the living people he met along the way were not usually so accommodating...
Moviemaking twins The Hughes Brothers had not directed a film since From Hell in 2001 when The Book of Eli was released, which for one thing made fans wonder where they had been all this time, and for another, although this was a fair success, they wondered if they had really chosen the right material for their comeback. This was religious science fiction, a style of moviemaking that often veered towards the apocalyptic, and often in sub par writing that put getting across the word of God above telling a convincing story. So while this was not as bad as some of the movies put out in His name, it was by no means one of the best.
Of course, there's nothing wrong with mixing religion with your speculative fiction, plenty had artistic success with it before and plenty would afterwards, it was just that The Book of Eli led up to such a groaner of a twist, or a revelation if you like, that it put the rest of the film into a decidedly corny light. Early on it seems as if the main influence here was not the Mad Max movies but the Spaghetti Westerns of the sixties and seventies, with Washington doing his best Man with No Name (er, apart from Eli) as he strode across the desert landscapes and dispatched the bad guys foolish enough to tangle with him as easily as if he were swatting flies, though he preferred to use a sword rather than a six shooter.
Mind you, he has a gun or two as well, which comes in handy for the occasions when he is shot at, especially as his pistol carries about twenty-five bullets. Anyway, our big villain here is not Satan, but a tinpot dictator called Carnegie (Gary Oldman in yet another sci-fi bad guy role) who runs the town Eli wanders through looking for water and someone to recharge his mp3 player. Tom Waits is the man who obliges, but word gets around that there's a stranger there and that he has a skill with self-defence as well as a backpack full of intriguing items. One of those objects is a Bible, and this alerts the interest of Carnegie, who has been seeking one of those since they were all apparently burned for causing the global war in the first place.
Without irony, the film depicts its holy book as still causing violence, though on a smaller scale than before, so that nobody thinks, well, maybe we were better off without it and it becomes the sacred object that the characters covet. It would be a MacGuffin, except that the script by Gary Whitta is patently very serious about how this text should be preserved at all costs, and those costs would appear to be incredibly high on the evidence with which we are presented. On the plus side the damned landscape is strikingly shot, and the world the characters inhabit is believably grimy, only when the carefully choreographed action gets going it looks too contrived and Hollywood glossy for its own good. The cast is worth a look, though, with Mila Kunis plucky as the sidekick Eli gets whether he wants one or not, Jennifer Beals as her blind mother, and Ray Stevenson doing his best with a stock right hand man role. Yet when the incidentals are more compelling than the plot, The Book of Eli doesn't really grab you.
American director of socially conscious thrillers, usually with his twin brother Allen. Menace II Society and Dead Presidents were violent urban crime stories, but with From Hell they transported their style to Victorian England for a Jack the Ripper tale. They both returned after too long away in 2010 with religious sci-fi The Book of Eli and Albert set out on his own in 2018 with prehistoric doggy story Alpha.
Allen Hughes (1972 - )
American director of socially conscious thrillers, usually with his twin brother Albert. Menace II Society and Dead Presidents were violent urban crime stories, but with From Hell they transported their style to Victorian England for a Jack the Ripper tale. They both returned after too long away in 2010 with religious sci-fi The Book of Eli.