out of Five
Running time: 106
Opens London Film Festival: 1st November
Actor-turned-writer/director Liev Schreiber’s directorial debut is an enjoyable adaptation which skilfully balances moving drama with off-beat comedy.
Everything is Illuminated is the directorial debut by actor Liev Schreiber, who adapted his own screenplay from the best-selling novel by 20-something author Jonathan Safran Foer. Foer’s tale of a Jewish American uncovering his Ukrainian roots struck a chord with Schreiber, who shares the author’s Jewish/Ukrainian background. The result is an extremely assured debut that captures both the humour and the poignancy of the novel.
Elijah Wood plays Jonathan Safran Foer, a young Jewish man obsessed with collecting mementos of his own life. When his grandmother dies, she leaves him a photograph of his grandfather standing in a Ukrainian field next to an unnamed woman, so Jonathan decides to travel to the Ukraine in order to trace his roots.
When he arrives, he enlists the services of flamboyant local tour guide Alex (newcomer Eugene Hutz), who brings along both his “blind” grandfather (Boris
Leskin). Surreal road movie-type shenanigans occur along the way, but their ultimate destination reveals secrets that prove unexpectedly moving for all concerned.
The performances are excellent. Elijah Wood proves that his hobbit days are well and truly behind him. His character initially seems cold and weird, but we gradually warm to him, just as Alex does. It’s also a generous performance, because Wood literally takes a backseat to Hutz’s movie-stealing turn as the language-mangling Alex, whose English is not so premium.
The film looks utterly gorgeous, thanks to colourful, expressive cinematography by Matthew Libatique. Schreiber directs with a keen eye for imagery and some of the shots will stay with you for days afterwards.
Though the film was mostly shot in Prague, Schreiber uses several authentic locations for the Odessa sequences that add considerably to the film – notably the visually stunning Odessa station.
In short, Everything Is Illuminated is an enjoyable adaptation that will please fans of the novel as well as inspiring a few new ones in its own right. Recommended.
Everything Is Illuminated (12A)