With unflappable cool and surprising gentleness, Denzel Washington strides a bleak and barren world in The Book of Eli
. Eli is headed west, but on the way, he passes devastation and squalor, and occasionally he must mete out some devastation of his own with a sharp blade. But when he arrives in what passes for a town in this dust-and-ash future, the power-hungry owner of the town's bar, Carnegie (Gary Oldman, looking a million years old), covets his one important possession. (Spoiler alert, sort of: it becomes apparent pretty quickly that it's a King James Bible.) Conflict ensues! Though the plot is simple and the "mystery" of the book doesn't last long, The Book of Eli
is carried along effortlessly by its star. Washington has always had a compelling mixture of authority and tenderness, and it's this latter quality that makes this contribution to the testosterone-and-violence-drenched post-apocalyptic subgenre unexpectedly human. The script, while not particularly original, has effective dialogue and is smart enough not to explain too much. The supporting actors--including Mila Kunis (Forgetting Sarah Marshall
), Jennifer Beals (who hasn't aged a day since Flashdance
), and Ray Stevenson (Rome
)--are all capable and easy on the eyes. The movie's bleached-out, sepia-tone look isn't new either, but it suits the subject matter. Anyone who wants to be offended by the movie's spiritual conclusion would be wiser to enjoy the subversive insinuation that religion can enslave as much as save. All in all, a competent action movie with some enjoyably atypical elements. --Bret Fetzer
Eli walks alone in post-apocalyptic America. He heads west along the Highway of Death on a mission he doesn't fully understand but knows he must complete. In his backpack is the last copy of a book that could become the wellspring of a revived society. Or in the wrong hands, the hammer of a despot. Denzel Washington is Eli, who keeps his blade sharp and his survival instincts sharper as his quest thrusts him into a savage wasteland... and into explosive conflict with a resourceful warlord (Gary Oldman) set on possessing the book. "We walk by faith, not by sight," quotes Eli. Under the taut direction of the Hughes Brothers (Menace II Society), those words hit home with unexpected meaning and power.