by Rick Grant
This post-apocalyptic film could be considered a way of presenting a western-styled mosaic, because after a global nuclear war the conditions in the country would be like the old west. All modern electrical grids and computer infrastructures would be wiped out by the electromagnetic pulses produced by the atomic bomb blasts. Worse still, most of the Earth’s population would be killed in the initial megaton explosions or the radiated fallout afterward. A nuclear winter would ensue, killing most of the animals and ruining food sources. The remaining survivors would be blasted back to a primitive world. People would be reduced to fending for themselves and the survival of the fittest would prevail. In effect, the world would be like the 1800s.
This well-written Hughes Brothers’ film is set thirty years after the nuclear apocalypse. For the smattering of survivors, anarchy reigns and marauders hunt for human prey to eat. Inhabiting this bleak world are mostly young people who were born after the holocaust. They have no knowledge of what life was like in the modern technological world.
Books or schools are non-existent. Thus, post-apocalyptic survivors are illiterate. The rag-tag vagabonds are tired of wandering the parched land alone. They are looking for shelter, water, food, and company. In this grim reality, there are a few towns offering basic amenities. They are run by pre-apocalypse criminals who take advantage of the illiterate drifters who come into the town for water and food. They supply alcohol and prostitutes and are paid in merchandise.
The town in this story is like HBO’s “Deadwood,” an old western-like town run by Carnegie (Gary Oldman), a con man and cruel leader who uses fear of swift, deadly reprisal as his way of keeping his private army under control. He has a fresh water supply, whiskey stills, and even running vehicles locked away.
Traveling across the country to the West Coast is a man, Eli (Denzel Washington), on a mission from God. He’s clearly ex-military and has advanced martial arts and weapons’ skills. After the early days of fighting for survival, he had a celestial visitation–a voice spoke to him and told him to take the King James version of the Holy Bible to the West Coast and he would be protected. Eli’s leather bound copy was the only one left. Eli was honored to be tasked by God on this sacred crusade, and he set out on foot to deliver the Good Book to a safe place. More importantly, Eli was a dedicated student of the Bible and had memorized it word for word.
For religious people, Eli could be construed as a new Messiah making sure the word of God was preserved to help the survivors build a new world of law and order with spiritual
Eli faces many challenges on his long trek across the country. Marauders were everywhere using girls in distress as bait. Eli was armed with a large sword-like knife, sawed-off shotgun, 9 millimeter hand gun, his exceptional fighting skills, and a guardian angel. Eli dispatched the thugs and degenerates along the way with relative ease. Nothing could stop him.
Back in Carnegie’s town, he somehow knew there was one copy of the Bible left and he wanted it. Its words had the power to get the people in line by offering them a phony religion that he would lead.
The story becomes a struggle between Eli and Carnegie to possess the Holy Bible. Meanwhile, Eli’s dedication to God’s will is tested by Carnegie’s persistence to take the book from Eli.
Frankly, I would see any film with Denzel Washington as its star. In this picture, he stretches his acting chops with a memorable performance. Gary Oldman excels as Carnegie, the power hungry, ruthless ruler of the town. When one breaks down the story, it’s a western adventure featuring a man on a sacred mission.