Reviewed by Humby:

Actor Liev Schreiber makes his directorial debut with EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED. Based on a book of the same name by Jonathan Safran Foer, the story follows a young Jewish man (named Jonathan) as he travels to a Ukrainian village to find out more about his recently deceased grandfather. On this journey, he meets colorful characters that serve as his guide in the Ukraine, the translator (Alex) and the driver that believes that he is blind (Alex’s grandfather). There is more to the story, but I don’t want to ruin the joy of Jonathan’s discoveries from his past and their impact on the present.

This is a strong directorial debut and Schreiber demonstrates a confidence and steady hand as he leads us through this world. There is a lot of humor to be had by the cultures colliding, and there are many times where it could have gone over the top, but stops just short.

But the strongest element of the movie is the look, some masterful work by ace cinematographer Matthew Libatique (REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, TIGERLAND). Schreiber has stated that the look of the movie essentially came from the title, EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED. The colors pop, the film stock changes, the whites blow out at times, and the movement of the camera is smooth, creating a dreamlike world for Jonathan to go through. Libatique is quickly becoming one of the premier D.P.’s in the business and is one of the few where I will go and see a movie just because he shot it.

Elijah Wood stars as Jonathan and is the perfect fish out of water. His eyes are endlessly expressive and he naturally possesses a vulnerability that makes you love him from the first shot. Being in a movie as big as “Lord of the Rings” at such a young age can kill your career if you are not careful. One thing that Wood has done is pick really interesting and different roles to follow up the blockbuster. Movies such as ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND and SIN CITY really show different sides of Wood as an actor. This is his first lead performance since he left middle earth and he really carries the film without much dialogue or expression. After seeing his work here, I look forward to what ever he chooses to do in the future. He is more than just a hobbit.

The other actor that I must mention is Eugene Hutz, who plays Alex, the translator. Hutz (in his film debut) has a fantastic, natural energy that is a great contrast to Wood’s stoicism. Hurz is the front man of a gypsy punk band called Gorgol Bordello, and while his music is good (several of the band's songs are in the film) I really believe that he has a bright future on screen. Alex is a fun character that is the light of this film. In a lot of ways, this is his film. The narration that begins and ends the film is his, and he is the engine that keeps this story going. Just the way that he dressed made me laugh. He also handles that cultural barrier well and is able to get some great laughs out of it without going too far.

Overall, this is a good movie and I recommend it. Look for Liev Schreiber as a new talent in the director’s chair. Impressive debut…


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