A review of “Everything is Illuminated” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: PG-13 for language and adult themes

Run Time: 1 hour, 42 minutes

 

 

Actor Liev Schreiber (“The Manchurian Candidate”) dons his writer/director’s hat to adapt the idiosyncratic and critically acclaimed novel of the same name to the big screen in true indie style.

Nebbish tsotschke collector cum American writer Jonathan Safran Foer (Elijah Wood) is on a mission, a focused search for the woman who rescued his grandfather in the tiny Ukranian town of Trachimbrod circa 1940s.

There are hurdles galore on his journey abroad to collect the past, including a sticky language barrier and the fact that Trachimbrod was wiped off the map in WWII during a Nazi invasion.

Undeterred, Jonathan hires a local driver and tour guide, an eccentric grandfather/grandson duo (Boris Leskin and Eugene Hutz) with their own hidden agendas. Jonathan’s obsession with his history mirrors his young guide’s own fascination for all things American, making for an odd marriage of desires.

With the aura of a fever dream the trio traverses the Ukranian countryside, barely tolerating each other’s eccentricities and gathering peculiar clues along the way. The subtle overtures of their discoveries are startling and rather haunting (Holocaust atrocities et al), offering a better understanding of the players, their levels of forgiveness and the deep roots of their faith.

Schreiber’s directorial debut is every bit as accomplished as his thespian skills; he exhibits a sure hand with his actors and an elegant confidence with the written word. Only his tone is skewed -- a tad precious and borderline lightweight where there should be narrative heft.

Quirky, sentimental and thought-provoking.