Everything Is Illuminated

on September 16, 2005 by Annlee Ellingson
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Jonathan Safran Foer (Elijah Wood), a fictionalized version of the author of the book on which the film is based, travels to the Ukraine to visit the childhood shtetl of his grandfather and hopefully locate Augustine, a mysterious woman to whom his family attributes his grandfather's escape before the Nazis obliterated the village. With a slick helmet of hair and Harry Potter spectacles, Wood is more alien than simply elitist New York intellectual in the role. But, with a guttural timbre and poetic delivery, Eugene Hutz, a first-time actor who fronts the gypsy punk band Gogol Bordello, proves a charismatic new talent as Jonathan's tour guide Alex, a translator with an amusingly questionable command of English. With them are Alex's ostensibly blind grandfather (Boris Leskin) and a "seeing-eye bitch" to help the old man drive. As the men and dog approach their destination, it's not only Jonathan's history that is illuminated.

In the best adaptations, filmmakers render a final product that's uniquely cinematic, as in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, or deepens the material, as in this weekend's "Proof." Here, though, Liev Schreiber, an immensely satisfying actor making his eagerly anticipated directorial debut, mitigates the more challenging aspects of Foer's novel. In a move that perhaps personalized the project -- he eschewed his own screenplay about his late grandfather and the Ukraine when he ran across Foer's excerpt in the New Yorker -- but also sanitizes it for commercial audiences, Schreiber takes literary license with the elderly grandfather's backstory that is still compelling but fundamentally alters the complex themes of the novel, stripping the character's final act of meaning. It's the most egregious among a number of other small changes that ultimately dampen the story's emotional impact. Worse, the novel's absurdist humor doesn't fully translate. Starring Elijah Wood, Eugene Hutz and Boris Leskin. Directed and written by Liev Schreiber. Produced by Marc Turtletaub and Peter Saraf. A Warner Independent release. Drama. Rated PG-13 for disturbing images/violence, sexual content and language. Running time: 102 min

Tags: tarring Elijah Wood, Eugene Hutz and Boris Leskin. Directed and written by Liev Schreiber, Produced by Marc Turtletaub, Peter Saraf, Warner Independent, Drama
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