In the wake of The Passion Of The Christ, the expected deluge of big-budget Christian entertainments has never quite materialized, but the logline for the post-apocalyptic thriller The Book Of Eli—about a Biblical warrior who protects the last known copy of the Good Book—suggests a late start. Working from a script by Gary Whitta, the Hughes brothers, Albert and Allen, have made a stark affirmation of faith as a guiding light for a broken, lawless civilization, but to their credit, the film stops well short of proselytizing. In their world, there’s no intrinsic good in Bible-thumpers spreading the word; it all depends on who’s doing the thumping.
Wandering the scorched landscape familiar to countless other post-apocalyptic movies—The Road Warrior and A Boy And His Dog especially, though the film owes something to ’70s anti-Westerns, too—Denzel Washington plays a loner heading west with precious cargo. Thirty-one years after “the flash” wiped out much of humanity, Washington dodges the roadside marauders and cannibals who scramble for scarce resources, and when he can’t dodge them, he runs them through with a sharp sword. While stranded in a Wild West town, Washington butts heads with fellow bibliophile Gary Oldman, a nefarious power broker who believes the Bible will help him expand his empire. A miscast Mila Kunis also stars as a conspicuously glamorous young woman who supports this stranger’s mission.
The Book Of Eli takes the form of an ultra-violent graphic novel, with Washington as a steely Man With No Name type who cuts a righteous path through the gullets of sinners and savages. At a time when theaters are experiencing a glut of doomsday scenarios, the Hughes’ ashen, bombed-out future world looks a little too familiar, no matter how crisply they present it. But the showdown between Washington and a deliciously hammy Oldman complicates the film’s overt religiosity, making it less a testament to a Christian God than to the power of the written word. Its hero may be on a mission from above, but in a refreshing twist, the fate of mankind rests with the literate.