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Everything Is Illuminated

Genre: Adventure/Comedy/Drama
Rated: PG-13
Directed by
Released by: Warner Independent Pictures

In Short: Liev Schreiber shows a deft touch with his first directing effort, an adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer's best-selling novel about a young man's journey to discover his family history.

A Road Trip to Remember
Discovering the Past to Illuminate the Present
By Jenny Peters

Who knew that Liev Schreiber was so talented? As an actor, he's always given solid performances in movies as diverse as "Scream" and "The Manchurian Candidate," but there's been no hint until now that Schreiber had it in him to be a triple threat, adding scriptwriting and directing to his already impressive résumé. "Everything Is Illuminated," Schreiber's first foray into filmmaking, is certainly a success, at times hilarious, often odd, and finally downright emotional and moving.

The movie is Schreiber's adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer's best-selling memoir about his journey to Ukraine, where his family was from, and the search for an understanding of his Jewish grandfather's experience there during World War II. Adding elements of his own Ukrainian-American background, Schreiber (who chose not to appear in the film) has fashioned a completely winning and distinctly quirky picture, filled with fine performances and striking imagery.

Casting a bespectacled Elijah Wood as the repressed, fear-driven Jonathan was an inspired choice. He proves unequivocally that he is much more than just a Hobbit with a ring to protect, despite once again being the lead on a life-changing cinematic quest. Wood gives a nuanced, unforgettable performance, showing strong range and multilayered emotion.

But Schreiber's real triumph is with the casting of the two Ukrainians that Jonathan meets on his journey across that foreign landscape. First-time actor (a Ukrainian immigrant who now lives in New York) Eugene Hutz is absolutely hilarious as the narrator and guide with his mangled English, slightly screwy outlook, weird clothing choices, and obsession with American culture, while wizened Russian actor Boris Leskin is the epitome of a crotchety old grandpa. The scenes with these three talented performers crammed into a crummy little turquoise Trabant automobile along with a crazy dog are priceless, as all four (yes, even the dog) are irrevocably changed by their road trip into the past, which is strikingly "illuminated" by the final frames.

There's just one thing that handsome Liev Schreiber should change when he makes another film; next time he needs to write himself a role, too, as he's obviously talented enough to do it all.

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