I’m pretty sure that somewhere in the unofficial New Yorker film critic handbook there’s a rule that goes something like this: If Christian faith is central to a film, don’t be afraid to stoop to name-calling and character assassination. Thus it wasn’t surprising to see in what manner David Denby unleashes his ire on The Book of Eli, the story of a man in post-apocalyptic America trying to find a safe place for the last Bible. Denzel Washington plays this faithful man, who is one part Shaft, one part Kwai Chang Caine, and one part Moses, with the capacity for blood-spilling sufficient to warrant a commission in the Army of the 300. His nemesis, played by Gary Oldman, is ruler of a wasteland fiefdom that appears to be a cross between a Western frontier town and modern-day Detroit. Oldman has been searching for a Bible, because with it he believes he can rule the remaining vestiges of humanity.
It’s a suitable plot: good guy is on a quest, bad guy wants to stop him, the struggle ensues. There’s twists up until the very end, and the acting throughout is adequate and entertaining. It’s a decent-enough movie in its own right, and an exceptional movie insofar as it treats the Word as something incarnational, which is all but absent in modern Christian thought, not to mention popular entertainment. I’m telling all my Christian friends, and my friends who enjoy action flicks, and my friends who like Denzel (if you find yourself at the drop-dead center of that little Venn diagram, you’d best run not walk to the nearest theater) to see this film.
Denby, on the other hand, begins his New Yorker review with a little old-fashioned smearing. It seems that notable conservatives Ross Douthat and Jonah Goldberg want more Christian values in movies. Boo that, of course. It sounds kind of like censorship. Or something. Just, well, boo.
Denby’s not so subtle implication, of course, is that if Douthat and Goldberg want it, then it can’t be art. The Hughes brothers, directors of The Book of Eli, must be in some way fatally compromised. Denby then complains about the film’s coloring, the seeming plethora of apocalypse movies lately, the fact that the Christian faith in this movie isn’t suitably expounded upon and justified (because, yeah, that would have made him enjoy it a lot more). It’s “daft” and “liver” colored and a form of American “religio-exploitation.”
Very clever writing, and very predictable, and quite irrelevant. As for me and my house (to make an allusion to the Bible and get all religio-exploitave on you), we’ll give this one two thumbs up — one from Wife and one from me, with our remaining thumbs firmly clutching the rim of our ginormous popcorn tub.