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 is a film that always entertains but that also crosses lines between reality and fantasy, writer's intentions vs screenwriter's needs, and story manipulation that may please some and frustrate those who loved the book.
Jonathan Safran Foer (Elijah Wood) is a collector of familial trinkets who sets out to the Ukraine to discover teasers of how his Jewish grandfather escaped annihilation in the Ukraine at the kindness of one Augustine (Tereza Veselkova). Once in the Ukraine he hires a tour guide Alex (Eugene Hutz) who with his 'blind' grandfather (Boris Leskin) as driver and their bizarre dog Sammy Davis Jr. Jr. to take him to Trachimbrod, the site where Foer's grandfather knew Augustine. It seems there is no such place, and the journey to wherever begins. Alex mangles his English with malapropisms and strange word substitutions making his job as translator for Foer the high point of the road trip (as it made the original book the reason to read!). The many entanglements the strange little group encounter in their drive results in finding the secrets Foer is seeking and he is able to return home satisfied with his journey.
All this makes for an acceptable road trip comedy until Schreiber excises the bulk of the novel - the bits of history that make the eventual discovery of the truths Foer seeks more meaningful. And while the novel never lets the comedy slip off line, the screenplay switches gears and makes the story another tender yet sad holocaust tale. But despite the completed film's ending, the DVD shows the plentiful scenes not included in the film, scenes that are as over the top and barking for laughter as Foer's crazy novel. We should only be grateful that Schreiber has the sense to delete these costly production numbers, as they are indeed silly!
Eugene Hutz (born in 1972 Yevhen Hudz in Kiev, Ukraine) is the true find of the film. His 'acting experience' is solely as the 'front man for Gogol Bordello, a gypsy punk band fusing supercharged folk influences with a sideshow cabaret'. But he manages the wildly maniacal yet strangely intuitive character and lines of Alex with great finesse. He is a treasure! The rest of the cast is strong and the splendid musical score by Paul Cantelon and the cinematography by Matthew Libatique add immeasurably to the film.
Though many may disagree with Schrieber's manipulation of the book, few will be able to miss the fact that for a first outing as writer/director EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED is a fine start. Three stars for the film in general, but a fourth star for the performances by Hutz and Leskin. Grady Harp, March 06
***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 … more
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. … more
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 … more
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 … more
Grady Harp is a champion of Representational Art in the roles of curator, lecturer, panelist, writer of art essays, poetry, critical reviews of literature, art and music, and as a gallerist. He has presented … 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