Everything is Illuminated tries so hard to be a masterpiece. It cajoles and complains, tries both scaling and kicking the mountain before it finally crashes down into the realm of merely good. Merely good is not so bad, merely good is better than most. It is sad that I’m going to bicker more about what went wrong then what went right, but I had visions of a masterpiece too, a once a decade romp, something to truly write home about.
The plot is of Elijah Woods as “The Collector”. He’s a highly affected young man who seeks to find the history of his family, or better yet, to put the history of his family in a Ziploc bag. As his grandmother passes away she gives Elijah a photo of which he had no knowledge, and his pursuit of this new mystery is launched.
“The Collector” ends up in the Ukraine, in Odessa. He meets up with his translator and his driver, members of a ragtag family. The translator is the grandson of the driver, who believes he is blind. Yes, I mean the driver. It’s this type of off beat humor which has Everything is Illuminated really humming after a slow opening.
Eugene Hutz as Alex the translator is as well cast as I’ve seen anyone for any role this year (by far). He is simply made for this goofy part, and truth be told he steals the movie. I hope and pray we see this actor again, but considering he’s a rocker by profession he might not want to be seen in anything else. Hutz handles all the comedy and much of the emotion later on down the line. Early on Alex says “Many girls want to be carnal with me because I’m such a premium dancer.” You had me at carnal Eugene, you had me at carnal.
So where does this movie misfire? Everything is Illuminated is too deliberate most of the time. It also drifts into dangerous territory when the feelings & emotion time comes. It feels overly manipulative towards the end. The correct ending comes twenty minutes too late and probably after too many conflicting endings have already been attempted. It’s a complex film, but not really a logical one. The look of the film is also a bit frustrating. It seems to be darkly lit throughout so that the “illumination” scenes are that much more powerful, but it ends up looking like you are watching it from life support, maybe with a morphine drip. Not my cup of tea, especially given how “European” this film feels and knowing the alternative European feel is bright and vibrant like fan favorite Juenet.
Giving Liev Schreiber the writing and directing reigns for the first time in his career was probably investing too much in hope. In the hands of a more capable director this would have been Mr. Oscar, hell maybe fast forward fifteen years into Liev’s own directing career and he could have pulled it off. So it’s just a good film. Good, merely good. It feels like a curse when you think of what they were going for. So it goes.