"The Book of Eli" takes a tired subject that has potential for originality and manages to make it even more tired. The film takes place sometime in the distant future. Humans are bad. Humans are selfish. Humans like to use more than they should and therefore a bomb goes off and destroys the world. Makes so much sense, right?
Well, despite what was probably a large nuclear fallout, people seem to be surviving just fine. Not only that, the future also seems to be lacking zombies. Eli (Denzel Washington) is a man who wanders through the desert waste of the United States. He fights off bandits and basically does anything to survive. The reason for his mission is to protect a very sacred book called the Bible. This makes "The Book of Eli" the first movie ever made to contain Biblical undertones.
Anyway, Eli wants to bring the Bible to a safe place on the western coast. However, a very bad man named Carnegie (Gary Oldman) wants the Bible for himself. He wants to use the knowledge in it to take over the world. This still doesn't make much sense to me.
The rest of the film varies between sparse action sequences and long, dull expanses of meaningless dialogue. In between that is crammed horribly obvious product placement (most hilariously occurs during one scene involving a megaphone).
The film steals from the brilliance of "Fahrenheit 451,"* "Children of Men," and "The Road"* without much guilt. It is one thing to be inspired by these classics, and another to just blatantly rip them off. The idea of the Bible as a guide to restoring the world was already done much more convincingly in "Fahrenheit 451" and the idea of some guy traveling across a post-apocalyptic landscape has already been done too many times to count.
I am actually highly fascinated by films portraying the future. I like to see how artists use their visions of the future to show where the human race is headed. "The Book of Eli" contributes absolutely nothing to this idea. Perhaps the directors, the Hughes Brothers, didn't intend the film to be this deep. However, it fails as good entertainment as well.
You'd think that "The Book of Eli" would have at least have some exciting action. After all, it is shot like a video game. However, the action sequences amount to maybe under five minutes. They are shot in an unreal, very unfocused matter. There's no way to get any sort of joy out of the action if it's shot like this. Also, action can't be very intriguing if the hero never seems to be facing any sort of vulnerability.
Another part of the film that had potential was also sorely under utilized. During the film, the young Solara (Mila Kunis) follows Eli on his journey. With all the time they spend together, no sort of bond seems to form between them. The Hughes Brothers act like something forms between them but in reality, nothing does.
I would probably the call "The Book of Eli" more of a Western than a Sci-Fi film. I guess you could call it something of a dystopian western film. In that light, I wish the film had made Eli into a more complex western outlaw than a cliche Messiah type. Besides, how can any man be considered Jesus if he chops people's hands off?
I will give "The Book of Eli" credit for one thing: a big end twist that's actually surprising. It might turn into another lame Biblical metaphor, but I need to give the filmmakers credit for actually making one part of the film remotely interesting.
Perhaps the biggest problem of "The Book of Eli" is that while Eli's motives make sense, Carnegie's are never defined. Therefore, the entire plot just becomes irrelevant.
The overall message of "The Book of Eli" seems to be something along the lines of, "we will all be saved by the Bible." I don't know if I should be deeply offended or just flabbergasted at its unoriginality. Usually, when a film has Biblical undertones, they're supposed to be much more subtle.
Some will probably want to recommend this movie just as an escapist form of entertainment. However, just because it has the label of action movie, why does that make it automatically entertaining? Any film with sparse action, poorly developed characters, and a weak storyline cannot formulate anything close to a true form of cinematic entertainment.
*I have not seen the film versions of either "Fahrenheit 451" or "The Road." However, having known the stories, I can still tell you how similar they are to the plot of "The Book of Eli" and how superior they both are.