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Everything Is Illuminated

A movie directed by Liev Schreiber

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A very good, very clever, and very entertaining debut.

  • Mar 23, 2011
***1/2 out of ****

If there is one thing that I really admire about "Everything is Illuminated"- and it is hard to pick one thing given how much I liked the film-, it is that the film does not stick to one tone (or genre) throughout. One moment, "Everything is Illuminated" is a bold and very funny comedy. The next moment, it is dark and tense. And then in that final moment, we feel sadness, despair, and a quite feeling of content emotion. The film, and its story, are both built like a Wes Anderson sort of film; but without a lot of the same kind of humor, characters, or story-telling. While Anderson makes films about the struggle for human connection, this film is purely about finding oneself in a journey. But this is, alas, a journey that some will find very hard to relate to. "Everything is Illuminated", the first film to be directed by Liev Schreiber, is a moody film that I admire for many reasons. It is funny, sad, and honest. To call it emotionless would be both paying a compliment as well as insulting this pretty picture. Although Schreiber takes a lot of the brilliance from the original novel, he goes admittedly do it justice by directing a very, very good film. I liked this film a lot because it was quirky. And we all love quirky shit; me especially. So right there, you should know why I decided to watch "Everything is Illuminated". However, I have two warnings. The first warning is that the common premise often suggests that this is a film about a Jewish Elijah Wood collecting things in bags and pinning them on a wall. That is not what the film is about. The second warning is that this film is not made for everyone's liking, and the pacing and story-telling may make it difficult for a lot of people to connect. However, there is something very seductive and unique about this film. It is something that very few dramas, or comedies, will offer up. And that is perhaps why no matter how many viewings it takes for one to get the film, you should by all means see it. It is a fun movie, all-in-all, without the excessive symbolism and philosophical ramblings that would typically accompany such a road-trip movie as this. So thanks for that, Schreiber.

The film begins by introducing us to two very important characters. The first is a meek, bug-eyed Jewish man who wears glasses, and his name is Jonathan. His quest is to find the woman who saved his father in the Holocaust. The second character is a man named Alex, who acts as both a translator and a guide to our shy, bug-eyed friend. Alex is perhaps given more comedic development than any other character. We learn that he is a fan of Michael Jackson music and dance-clubs. He likes to "get down on the dance floor", so to speak. However, these two souls are ultimately on a road trip, accompanied only by two other companions; Alex's grandfather, and his grandfather's dog. The dog is there to guide the very blind elder to wherever he pleases. The dog was not raised or trained to do what the old man thinks its doing. He treats it well, but then again, he also refers to the animal as his "seeing-eye bitch". This alone describes and tells us much about the relationship between the dog, who is otherwise unnecessary to the plot, and his uptight master. So yes, it is going to be a funny road-trip movie for most of the time. But when the car (and those inside it) makes it to their destination, the mood shifts abruptly. Happiness changes to sadness, while hilarity shifts all the way to a serious sort of tone. What you get out of the experience is a very moving film, one with rewards, and to others- flaws. I do not think this film has many problems, although I do not think that it is for everyone. It can be fascinating, and the novel-to-film translation/transition is smooth enough. I did enjoy this film. It was not only entertaining, but also well-told and emotionally resonant enough. Yes, there is a part of me that just loved films as quirky as this one. There's just no avoiding the genius involved.

Elijah Wood is an actor who often can look younger than he actually is. Yes, this could be counted as a good thing, or perhaps even a bad thing. Here, he is a mellow and shy human being with giant-ass glasses; which make his eyes look ridiculously huge. It adds to the charm of the character- as I suppose it is intended to- and therefore, there is also much charm in Wood's performance. He is talented, and this performance means that he could really go places as an actor. Or maybe not, who knows? He was indeed in "The Lord of the Rings" film trilogy. And he didn't stop his talented roles there. Here he gets to experiment with himself a bit; and I enjoyed the ride. Wood is quiet, but this gives us time to think about his character, and I like that. Alex is played by Eugene Hutz, who is absolutely irresistible in his role. From the moment we are introduced to this quirky, wildly adventurous fellow, we are tempted to fall in love with him. A good comedy has a good pair of leads. Just one good lead is often good enough for this cinephile. So it's good to see that this film gives us more than we'd expect. More is better where I come from.

"Everything is Illuminated" is done in such a unique style. It will confuse people, therefore. But to those who see the film, perhaps multiple times, and with the right state of mind; the stylistic elements make this film one-of-a-kind and in the end, quite fascinating. This film is living, almost breathing proof that Liev Schreiber is as good of a director as he is an actor. He has had good acting roles, and this is his first, and so far best, directorial one. He has a certain style going on here, and I admired it consistently. He borrows a lot of ideas from the novel, as all adaptations do, and I do admit that the film is not entirely his creation. But the fact that he's still able to adapt it so carefully is admirable. Hopefully this is not his first-and last- effort in the area of film directing. He embeds clever visuals, great cinematography, and interesting music into this film; which is essentially a solid art-house. There's an artsy feel to the experience, even if it is not perhaps the highest of art. But it is skillful in its abrupt tone, and it is a film which I recommend highly for its mastery in that area. It is not a perfect film, but it is one that I would not mind to visit yet again.

Some people felt that "Everything is Illuminated"- as a book- was pretentious and silly. Those people will think no more and no less of Liev Schreiber's adaptation, which to me is whimsical, magical, and superbly interesting. It's an entertaining movie, depending on what you find funny. I classified it as a road-trip movie, even though it does not completely feel like one. It's like a trip with a destination that can only be reached in time. The characters make stops, which might make the experience unbearably tame and pretentious for some. But you know what I think? I think that "Everything is Illuminated" is fun, funny, entertaining, and intelligent. Never goes it go over-the-top with emotions of sadness, fear, and humor; and never does it miss its target. It wants to be quirky, and luckily, it IS quirky. I can learn to enjoy a film like that once in a while. This film is allegedly made better due to the fact that I haven't seen something quite as oddball addicting as this in quite some time, and it's good to know that films as clever as this one are still being made. Like this one, most clever films are based upon novels. But then again, so are most films in general. I can live with that. Good adaptations can happen. They happen often, and "Everything is Illuminated" is the kind of film that you would not expect to be a film adaptation of a novel. Nor would you expect it to be this rich. Long story short, the film is pleasantly surprising in all the right ways. I enjoyed it; it was fun. It won't draw in just anyone, though. But does that put off from my recommendation? If it does, than it should not; nothing should. I like this film. I like it a lot. And nothing, not even a hint of imperfection, can change that.

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March 23, 2011
Great work on this. I especially like the way you tie in the summary with your analysis of its scenes. Very nice work indeed! Thanks, Ryan!
More Everything Is Illuminated (200... reviews
review by . December 30, 2008
posted in Movie Hype
Life is not all sad and tragic. Neither is it sunshine and butterflies every day. I love films that take the balance of life--its griefs, joys and absurdities--and present them in a way that enables us to see ourselves and our own lives.    Elijah Wood once again finds a role in which he can shape-shift into a character who is decidedly not like him, yet he makes that character real. In fact, all the actors in this film--including the dog--give poignant and profound performances. …
review by . July 13, 2006
My wife picked up "Everything Is Illuminated" for me one day. She said she saw the DVD cover and thought that it looked right up my alley with its goggle-eyed Elijah Wood and the glaringly yellow background. I couldn't tell her that I'd seen the flick sitting at the rental place for some time and always passed over it BECAUSE of the goggle-eyed Wood. However, to my surprise this is one of the best films I've ever watched.    It tells the tale of Jonathan Safran Foer's quest to …
review by . June 28, 2006
posted in Movie Hype
Pros: Story, music, all performances, balance of humor and contemplation      Cons: That it is only 100 mins long      The Bottom Line: Mature without being condescending, funny without being insulting. One of the best movies I've seen this year.      Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie''s plot.      I haven’t had much luck with my Netflix picks lately. Some of them I didn’t …
review by . March 26, 2006
Jonathan Safran Foer's widely read novel 'Everything is Illuminated' was a zany concoction of story, standup comedy, and fantasy that worked well as a diversion because of Foer's very apparent rough style of writing: everything is forgiven if the words play with the imagination. But as a film the book seemed a formidable undertaking. Liev Schreiber, a consummate actor, adapted Foer's book for the screen, performing major surgery on the tale, and then directed his version with great skill. The result …
About the reviewer
Ryan J. Marshall ()
Ranked #3
It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more
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Based on the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer,Everything is Illuminatedstars Elijah Wood (Lord of the Rings) as Jonathan Safran Foer, a young Jewish man who wants to learn how his grandfather escaped from the Nazi incursions into Russia. From the U.S., he hires the hip-hop loving Alex (Eugene Hutz, leader of the gypsy-punk band Gogol Bordello) and his surly grandfather (Boris Leskin,Men in Black) as tour guides--only to discover, when he arrives in Odessa, that they are perhaps less than dependable. Thus begins a curious, almost metaphysical road trip that carries Foer into the past of his grandfather's village and the present of his own compulsive habits. Adapted and directed by Liev Schreiber (best known as an actor inThe DaytrippersandThe Manchurian Candidate),Everything is Illuminatedbuckles a little under its literary weight--what seems deft and resonant in the middle of several hundred pages can feel forced and ove! rstated in a two-hour movie--but it's also full of delightful dialogue, vivid characters, and oddball yet affecting scenes. Wood is his usual charming and neurotic self, but Hutz steals the show with the help of his wonderfully fractured English and his soulful eyes.--Bret Fetzer
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