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The Underrated Denzel Washington Action Adventure You Can Stream On HBO Max

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Denzel Washington is a true icon of American cinema, becoming a household name after starring in a number of action movies, thrillers, dramas, and biopics. But he's only ever done one adventure set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland: The Book of Eli

Directed by Albert Hughes and Allen Hughes, The Book of Eli is available to stream on HBO Max right now, and it's absolutely worth your time. Plenty of post-apocalypse movies revolve around specific villainous threats or monsters hunting the last remaining survivors, but The Book of Eli attempts to offer something a little deeper. Whether it succeeds in doing so is absolutely up to the audience and what they make of several twists along the way.

The film follows Denzel Washington's Eli as he travels across the United States after a nuclear holocaust; his mission is to deliver the last Bible to a sanctuary because every single version of it was purposefully destroyed in the aftermath of the apocalypse. While it's not quite as impressive as other modern apocalyptic movies like Mad Max: Fury Road (but then again, what is?), there's plenty to love about the fast-paced thriller from the Hughes brothers. 

The Book of Eli's fight scenes in particular are brilliantly executed, largely because Washington acts like a warrior monk. He dispatches his opponents because it's necessary, rather than out of sadistic pleasure. The Malcolm X and Remember the Titans star is also surrounded by an impressive cast, as Eli teams up with Mila Kunis' survivor called Solara, who becomes dedicated to Eli's cause. Gary Oldman also plays a gleefully sinister role as Carnegie, the leader of a small town, in what is quite frankly a scene-stealing performance.

An unexpected undertone

There's usually a huge spectacle that comes with the post-apocalyptic genre, with plenty of car chases, explosions, and/or nuclear warfare. But The Book of Eli keeps the focus relatively grounded as Washington's lone wanderer makes his way to the west coast. Along the way, there's religious discussion about humanity's place in the world and a suggestion that Christian belief might be the only form of salvation. It's not exactly what you'd expect from the same film in which Washington butchers with a machete a clan of would-be attackers.

In fact, the action style alongside the hero's stoicism makes The Book of Eli feel more like a Samurai Western, and that's no bad thing. Critics weren't too keen on the film when it first debuted, though, with many finding fault with the choppy religious themes and the overall bleakness of the world created by the directors and Rogue One writer Gary Whitta. Robert Levin from Critic's Notebook argued that the film is full of "irredeemably inexplicable silliness," while others, like Nikki Baughan of Roll Credits, praised Washington's "mesmerizing performance."

What we will say is that The Book of Eli works brilliantly as an entry into the post-apocalypse genre for teen audiences who are looking for something a bit edgier to get into as they get older. Is it surprising that it didn't win any major awards? No. Is it an underrated adventure that's more entertaining than it's given credit for? Absolutely — be sure to check it out on HBO Max.