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STUDIO: Warner Bros.
RUNNING TIME: 105 Minutes
• Deleted Scenes
• Theatrical Trailer
I really can’t think of a joke to go here, but given the story and source material I don’t think that whomever made the pitch had to try too hard at all.
Elijah Wood, Eugene Hutz, Boris Leskin & Sammy Davis Jr. Jr.
Jonathan Safran Foer is a young Jewish-American with a hobby. He’s a collector. But while most people collect comic books, stamps, or baseball cards, Jonathan collects family artifacts – everything from false teeth to sales receipts. On a trip to visit his ailing grandmother, she gives him an old photograph of his grandfather and a woman named Augustine who had saved him from the Nazis in 1942. With his translator Alex (Hutz), Alex’s "blind" grandfather (Leskin) and Grandfather’s Seeing Eye Bitch (Sammy Davis Jr. Jr.), Jonathan sets out on a mission across the Ukraine, to his family’s hometown of Trachimbrod, to learn more about Augustine and his family.
Every once in a while we’re all going to see a movie that ends up making us better people for having watched it. Either we learn a little about ourselves, our history, or other people’s struggles or culture, but when we walk away from those particular movies we carry something out with us that we didn’t before. About 20 minutes into Everything is Illuminated I started getting that feeling. I started to realize that maybe this was more than a movie to me, that maybe this would be an experience, that maybe when the final credits rolled I would walk away with that extra little piece of myself that I didn’t have before. Would it be? Well we still had 70 minutes left to find out.
Live Schreiber’s directorial debut is essentially a road movie and like all road movies it’s all about the journey. At first we’re introduced to Jonathan (Wood) and his collection. Jonathan is a really buttoned-up guy, almost slightly neurotic and completely fixated on his family and his collection. It’s that collection that brings him to the Ukraine where he meets Alex (Hutz) a Ukrainian playboy who is passionate about all things American, including Michael Jackson and break-dancing. Driving our Collector is Alex’s blind Grandfather, Alex (Leskin), who isn’t really blind but likes to pretend that he is. Grandfather is a grumpy old bastard who rarely smiles, has a quick (and sometimes violent) temper and loves his Seeing Eye Bitch, Sammy Davis Jr. Jr. seemingly more than any other member of his family. It’s these four that make this journey and it is completely engaging, ranging from hilarious to touching to downright emotional at every second.
Again, it’s about the journey, and while the main journey is to a city, each character’s journey within is what makes up the bulk of this film. Alex is introduced as a flighty swinger who’s seemingly only concerned with getting carnal with females and being a premium dancer. He’s slowly revealed as an immensely polite young man who deeply loves his grandfather and has an intense need to fit in. Grandfather, while starting out an old prick, slowly and beautifully seems to retract deeply into himself and his memories, letting his gruff exterior crack open with every stop they make. Jonathan is probably the least changed in the journey, as we already know who he is and there isn’t that much left to reveal. There is a funny scene towards the beginning in which we learn that he’s a vegetarian and we see that Jonathan’s main purpose in the narrative is the interaction. His culture-discussions with Alex and Grandfather are often hilarious and we get a sense that Jonathan probably doesn’t have many (if any) friends and that he’s learning how to have a casual or even personal relationship with someone outside of his family.
And at the end of every journey is a destination and it’s the destination that steals the show. They end up in Trachimbrod almost by mistake and discover that all that’s left is a single house full of memories and an infinitely gorgeous patch of sunflowers. At least, that’s all that’s left in the physical sense. It’s in this third act that we discover the true destination of these characters and it’s not Jonathan’s search that is given priority. He does learn about Augustine and meets his would-have-been great aunt, but it’s Grandfather’s revelation that proves to be the point of the story. It’s also Grandfather’s climax that becomes the final destination of the journey. It becomes a story of redemption, a story of untold history and a discovery that Jonathan’s rigid search was merely a catalyst for what this story was truly about.
So, when the credits rolled, was it the experience I had suspected (and hoped for)? Sadly, it was not. That’s not to say there was anything wrong with the film. From a technical standpoint it was truly a work of beauty, both sonically and visually. From a story standpoint it grabbed me from the first frame and held me until the last. It’s become one of my most favorite films, but there was something missing. Something I can’t put my finger on but it’s that something that keeps it from achieving that life-changing status I had hoped for. Regardless though, this is a must-own. Even if the re-watchability runs out for you the lending factor will always be there. The next time someone comes to your house and wants to borrow a good movie, this is definitely one you need to have on your shelf to hand them.
Maybe it’s because I make a living as a graphics artist, but I find myself being extremely critical of DVD cover art. It’s rare that I find something that I absolutely love, but this is one of those rare occasions. Elijah Wood on a background of sunflowers. The clouds in his eyeglass lenses do a wonderful job of representing the illumination and that almost-smile is so perfectly representative that it couldn’t have been by accident. I love it.
The special features, however, are a huge disappointment. There are some alternate scenes tat I don’t think I can even call deleted because most of them are so unfitting with the rest of the movie I feel like they were shot just for fun with no intention of ever being in the final movie. And while they are fun, they also make up the whole of the Special Features Menu (along with the theatrical trailer). I wanted a commentary for this so badly and I was disappointed not to see it. Hell, even a featurette, an interview, anything. Ah well.
Had there been a more inclusive set of features, I might have given this disc a 10, life-changing or not, but this is too good of a movie to just throw out there with nothing.
8.0 out of 10