This feature seems to have been rather inaccurately marketed, with posters exaggerating the quirky nature of the film. The tagline ‘leave normal behind’ suggests we’re in for some kind of Tim Burtonesque surreal romp, but in fact Everything Is Illuminated steadily turns into a heartfelt holocaust survivor tale. The film, based on the book by Jonathan Safran Foer, focuses on the undying nature of grief, and how objects breathe life into our memories. As with many holocaust related narratives, the overwhelming credo seems to be ‘never forget’. Collective memory is of the utmost importance – it is eternal and more importantly affects the here and now.
The film is slow going to start with. At first the eccentricity is rather tacky, and some of the humour might have been more effective if it hadn’t been quite so drawn out. When it gets to the heart of the matter, however, Everything Is Illuminated is quite a powerful tale.
This film will surely cement Elijah Wood’s status outside of The Lord of the Rings, and his performance is certainly strong, however the character of Jonathan himself has very little to do. He looks like he’s just wandered in from the set of Sin City – so eerily does his character resemble the psycho from Miller and Rodriguez’s blood-drenched tale. Jonathan is a wonderfully placid and softly spoken person, but we never really learn much about him other than that he is a ‘collector’. His piercing blue eyes help exaggerate his search for the truth, but we are never properly introduced to him in the first place. I wanted to know what his aspirations were outside of this quest – for a fish out of water tale we need to know what he’s like in the water first.
Eugene Hutz is the standout performer, in his first acting role. Whilst it takes a moment to acclimatise to his tracksuit-covered, smooth talking ways, his over-inflated ego soon becomes a new kind of charming. Hutz’s day job is singing for ‘Golgol Bordello’, and the persona of the band I’m sure had a lot to do with his landing such a role.
The third of the road trip trio was the grandfather (Boris Leskin). His selective blindness, both literal and figurative, is a rather blunt reminder of the delicate nature of the narrative. There was also some ambiguity to his character, which was unfortunately (or thankfully) puzzling, almost out of place compared to the two other very rigid and honest characters.
Prague was substituted for the Ukraine in Everything Is Illuminated, and the cinematography is certainly beautiful, with stunning country vistas masking the locations’ hideous history.
Actor Liev Schreiber’s directorial debut (we know him as Cotton Weary of Scream fame, and more recently from The Manchurian Candidate) is an effective but imperfect film. The arty nature of the visuals is often clunky, and the first act rather ungainly. At the film’s heart is very powerful tale, however, and by the end the good bits had outweighed the negative for me.Rating: