Sunday, May 23, 2010

#25-Everything is Illuminated (2005)

Everything Is Illuminated

If I came into Everything Is Illuminated with one pre-conception in my mind, it would have to be skepticism. First of all, in order to be skeptical of something, for me anyway, there has to be some sort of hype behind it. Everything Is Illuminated was a critically acclaimed, but lacked any box office power, and even though critics praised the film, it was recognized at any major award hearings. The film currently has an 8/10 on IMDB. So, one could should come into this film expecting the best.

However, it did have a few things working against it. Firstly the film is written and directed by Liev Schreiber, who is known mostly for his acting career, as he became popular in the late 90's and early 00's with his work in the Scream film trilogy, and as a villian in X-Men Origins. Now, when you hand directing credits to a man whose film credits include the above films, you have to wonder what you are getting into, especially with a drama based mostly around WWII. Secondly, the film stars Elijah Wood. And while a lot of people like him, I am simply not a fan of his acting work. Sure he is decent, but he has never really stood out to me in any major roles he has performed in.

The film follows teh story of Jonathan Foer (Elijah Wood), a young Jewish man from America who sets out to find the woman who had saved his grandfather from the Holocaust. His guides are two Ukranian men, who are both slightly crazy. And elderly man, who may or may not be anti-semtic, his wannabe gangster Grandson, and a Boder Collie. The journey is to a town that his been wiped of the map called Trachimbrod, and what they find there, is utterly surprising.

Everything Is Illuminated is not a perfect film in any way, shape, or form. But it is better than I had expected going in. The film is slightly compassionate in its imperfections and I was greatly surprised by Schreiber's directorial skills. The film is based on a short-story of the same name, which I haven't read, and therefore cannot compare, I do however want to read it after seeing the film, which is definatly a postive.

"I am premium dancer"

Elijah Wood does better than expected in a rather tough role to play, being caught in a foreign land with many stranger people and things, and no one to really get along with. His performance is good, but not great, as I have come to expect from him. It may have been better had he not needed to compete with much more interesting supporting characters. Eugene Hutz gives an amazingly exaggerated performance as Alex, the younger of his two guides, who keeps things light, and humourus. another strong performance comes from Boris Leskin, who plays the grandfather, and who does a lot of the emotional heavy lifting towards the end of the film, instead of Elijah Wood, which was an interesting choice, but not one that worked well.

The music in the film was also very appreciated, with some fun songs by Russian punk band Leningrad, and some rousing scores from compser Paul Catelon. I must also praise the artist and mastery of the cinematography by Matthey Libatique, who keeps things very vivid in an otherwise slow and rather depressing film. When things need to be dark he also keeps the colors very light, even though in black and white. And only keeps the color red, which adds a very cool Schindlers List effect.

In no way is this film anywhere near the real of Schindlers List. Schreiber does a better job directing than expected, but it's easy to tell that he still could make it better with the films odd pace, a simple narrative that becomes rather confusing, and a very loose sense of direction. This is all fixed within the final few scenes of the film, but the rest is sometimes slow and hard to watch.

Everything is Illuminated is a decent WWII film, that rarely touches on WWII. For its unique choice and great techincal aspects, I applaud it. But all the emotion and comedy comes from supporting characters who have more of a role to play than our lead actor. Eljiah Wood is only semi-convincing as our main character, but is more deminished by an amazing performance from eugene Hutz. Schreiber isn't a bad director, in fact he is a very good one, especially for his first feature, but he can definatly improve, and I can't wait to see what he does next.

I Give Everything Is Illuminated A:


  1. What had me skeptical was that is was directed by an actor who, although usually quite good, isn't exactly a public figure and that the subject matter wasn't exactly riveting. What I was suprised was offbeat, subtle and lovely the movie was in a very Jim Jarmusch sort of way. Totally a buried treasure.

  2. I've recently read Roger Ebert's review of the film, in which he comments that it 'grows on you' and I have to agree with him. The more I watch segments of it on TV, and then the more I think about, the better the film seems to be to me.