The Book of Eli (2010) -vs- The Road (2009)

Book of Eli -vs- The Road

Bryce Zabel, Editor-in-ChiefThe Smackdown

We men have a default for action. So when the apocalypse arrives, we don’t plan on hunkering down, or trying to plant new crops.

No, we will hit the road, even if we don’t know where we’re going and, believe me, we’re not asking directions. For us, the idea is to keep moving.

My own personal take on the apocalypse is that it won’t be awesome, and it won’t be like a movie. It will be grimy, and personal hygiene will suffer, but the reason it’s called the apocalypse is that life will get cruel, short, and random, leaving precious few lines of witty dialogue to speak, or elegantly-staged action sequences to unfold.

Some filmmakers see things differently, and a surprising number of them, from Stanley Kramer (On the Beach) to Franklin Schaffner (Planet of the Apes) to the Georges Romero (Dawn of the Dead) and Miller (the Mad Max trilogy) have been able to convince studios to let them finance their grim visions for the masses to enjoy at the cineplex.

If our entire civilization falls in a forest, will it be heard in SurroundSound at the box office? That’s one of the questions we try to answer in this classic Smack.

The Challenger

Eli (Denzel Washington) has a Very Sacred Book, and for thirty years since the apocalypse, he’s been walking west and, even post-Armageddon, taking an awful long time to get there.  It seems from his apparent invincibility and the voice in his head that guides him that God is on his side.  In fact, religious symbolism at times threatens to overwhelm this story, with Eli a postmodern-day Moses, traveling through the desert to deliver his holy text to a safe place.

At the same time, there’s enough action, violence and intrigue to keep even the most godless heathen engaged.   The Hughes Brothers, who directed, clearly recognize the star power of Denzel Washington, who dispatches his onscreen antagonists with a more focused intensity than even Charlton Heston in his prime could muster.

The Defending Champion

Ten years after the lights go out, The Man (Viggo Mortenson) has a shopping cart, a torn map and two bullets, as he and The Boy push through the empty byways of this cold and dreary world, trying to get to the ocean. They don’t even have God, just faith.

While not what you would call a laugh riot, The Road did benefit enormously from the tremendous word of mouth surrounding Cormac McCarthy’s book on which it is based.  By winning a 2007 Pulitzer Prize weeks after being selected for Oprah Winfrey’s book club, the book was guaranteed the kind of attention that makes a movie deal possible for even the bleakest subject matter.

If it’s bleakness you want, The Road does not disappoint.  Hewing closely to McCarthy’s vision, the filmmakers shot long sequences in the decaying cities and coal fields of Pennsylvania, Katrina-ravaged New Orleans and the volcanic wasteland of Mount St. Helens to portray the aftermath of an apocalypse that some might say has already begin in real life.

The Scorecard

Although both films have a lot in common, like the threats from cannibals, abandoned shopping carts, and people with extremely bad teeth hogging the roadways, The Book of Eli is clearly the more commercial film project. It’s shot like an action film, it has a town that could be Dodge City where our good guy can take on the bad guys, and there are effects and fights like mad.

Both Denzel and Viggo, besides having great, uncommon names, are also fine actors who have committed to the roles they play.

The films, though, are deeply different in their structure: The Book of Eli has all the markings of a screenwriting program behind it (complete with surprise ending coming after a trail of clues) while The Road moves in fits and starts without a neat plan, like the book that inspired it. There’s a familiarity to The Book of Eli, down to the fact that my son and his friend both said it reminded them mightily of the videogame, Fallout 3. The logic behind The Book of Eli is flawed throughout. It doesn’t look or sound like a real post-apocalypse but like that videogame. The Road operates more-or-less logically until the coincidental end, but that’s not going to be a plus for a lot of people, who will write it off as too damn depressing and warn their friends not to see it, while giving the more familiar The Book of Eli a qualified endorsement.

Finally, the treatment of religion is actually a bigger difference between these two films than their treatment of the apocalypse. At its core, The Road pretty much says that God is dead and we’re on our own, while The Book of Eli tries to argue that no matter how bad things get, God still is working His plan.

The Decision

The Book of Eli kicked the ass out of The Road at the box office because, frankly, people don’t go to apocalypse movies to see how f***ed up it’s going to get for real, but to have a good time. And while there is a certain amount to like in The Book of Eli, and Denzel is always sensational even if reading the phone book (and here he gets to read text that is a little more high-minded), for me, it’s not enough. I want some authentic meaning. I got that from The Road.


About Bryce Zabel 199 Articles
Drawing inspiration from career experiences as a CNN correspondent, TV Academy chairman, writer/producer and fast-food cook, Bryce is the Editor-in-Chief of Movie Smackdown. While he freely admits to having written the screenplay for the reviewer-savaged "Mortal Kombat: Annihilation," he hopes the fact that he also won the Writers Guild award a couple of years ago will cause you to cut him some slack. He's also a member of the Directors Guild, creator of five primetime network TV series, and author of a new non-fiction book about UFOs.

14 Comments on The Book of Eli (2010) -vs- The Road (2009)


  1. good day, i actually mirielle right yet again, looking forward to a further post.


  2. agreed! that’s what Cormac even said in an interview, that movie was inspired by his relationship with his 11yr-old son and some of the conversations that they had


  3. obviously you didn’t get the message


  4. The only thing separating the ‘Book of Eli’ from a straight to video sci-fi was its budget and pedigree. The script was groan- out- loud awful. Gary Oldman will have a stomach ache for years from chewing all that scenery. Was someone related to Denzel to get him to participate in this turkey? Cormac McCarthy, on the other hand, is simply brilliant.


  5. The Road was better for the intellectual reality. Very grim and I didn’t like the end. It was just too far-fetched. Eli was good but they messed up the end too. More obvious signs that made the end tie in with the rest of the more. It could have worked just for the irony and that is the way I’m taking it. I could tell they were trying for a big twist but it didn’t work imho. I loved I am Legend and Terminator Salvation but I enjoyed The Last Man on Earth and the Terminator series.


  6. the road was boring


  7. I used to call Gordon Lightfoot ‘music to slash your wrists by.’ “The Road” could start a new genre ‘movies that make you stick your head in an oven.” I worry about such a nightmare vision, the effect it may have on the young costar Smit-McPhee. Is this role his ticket to future re-hab? Do parents of child actors agree that anything that brings a paycheck, short of a snuff film or porn, is okay?


  8. Yeah, I would include out “The Matrix” and “Mad Max,” shove in “Waterworld,” “A Boy and His Dog,” and because I love jokes about Twinkies, “Wall-E.”
    I always like movies about post-apocalyptic worlds, because I’m always interested to see how the writers believe the landscape will have survived. And why. Do they really believe in a bleak wasteland, for realistic scientific reasons, or is that just a major plot convenience, a device to drive the action, and keep us feeling tense? The scenery is pretty lush in “The Postman,” there does not seem to be a shortage of anything, except people, and us misanthropes would argue with that.
    (The admonition from “Jesse James” to “Kill All the Lawyers!” is finally realized.)
    “The Book of Eli” painted a future that was exceptionally bleak, with everything to sustain life almost gone, and the wizened human population consisting of just a handful of good people in thrall to the almost as sparse wicked. I’ll watch anything with Denzel, he’s chosen way more hits than misses over the years, and I liked both the theme, and that the director chose to say what he wished in under two hours, for a welcome change. But it left me feeling a little wanting, it seemed to want to trade surprises for character development.
    I haven’t seen “The Road,” but my daughter and I agreed after viewing “A History of Violence,” that Viggo Mortensen is another actor, like Russell Crowe, who does not fit into a current-day setting. Crowe belongs in Napoleanic War tales or ancient Rome, he suffers when asked to stride modern landscape. Viggo, also, fares best with a tunic and long blade, a horse as his conveyance, not serving coffee and day-old pie. So it will be interesting to see if he fits into a post-A setting, if that bitter future will garner, for him, the equivalent of Middle Earth. I can’t wait.
    As for my favorite filmization of life after the button is pushed? They haven’t made it yet. But “Road Warrior” came close, at the time of its release.


  9. Nick, when people voted for “The Road,” I think they considered something a little deeper than action or excitement. The father/son relationship portrayed, and how they dealt with their situation, gave the movie (and book) its impact.


  10. I can’t believe The Road got number one on the voting thing! Are you guys crazy? I personally found The road extremely boring! If i had to pick between The Road and the Book Of Eli I’d definatly go with Book of Eli because it was an excellent movie. But If you want to compare all the movies you listed on the poll then I AM LEGEND blows all of them out the ball park. Will Smith did an excellent job in that movie and even managed to put a little comedy into it.


  11. Mad Max isn’t really postapocalyptic, though, is it? I was hoping for Road Warrior here.
    And Matrix really REALLY does not belong here. May as well throw in Planet of the Apes.


  12. It is good action and drama movie. I watched this movie last night with my friend.All credit goes to director of the movie Albert Hughes. I highly recommend you this movie.


  13. Great cinematography and directing can’t hide the fact that ‘The Book of Eli’ has a cheesy, b-movie script that gets more ludicrous as it goes. Cormac McCarthy, on the other hand, channels Faulkner and other great American literary giants. No contest.


  14. Now I can’t wait to see both these films. The Road looked a little like a rental to me, while Book Of Eli has been marketed a little more skewed towards the action crowd. Great review, can’t wait to see them!

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