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Everything is Illuminated (R)

Release Date: September 16th, 2005 (NYC) by Warner Independent Pictures.
The Cast: Elijah Wood, Eugene Hutz, Boris Leskin
Directed by Liev Schreiber.
In English, Russian and Ukrainian with subtitles. BASIC PREMISE: Jonathan (Wood) travels to Ukraine in order to meet the woman who saved his grandfather during WWII and to learn more about him.

ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: It is difficult to enjoy this film because Elijah Wood's performance as Jonathan is so wooden and emotionless when it should be just the opposite. From the very moment, Jonathan is on a mission to find answers about his grandfather's life. He is a very eccentric character who often collects objects that remind him of the moment when he found them. His room if filled with pictures and objects in plastic bags that remind him of his family---but he has nothing collected for his grandfather. As soon as he enters Ukraine, he meets his two offbeat tour guides, Alex (Hutz) and Alex's grandfather (Leskin). There are plenty of offensive jokes about Americans. For example, when Alex learns that Jonathan is a vegetarian, he explains to the waitress that he's "American". Jonathan ends up with just a potato, but soon enough, it ends up on the floor and the dog eats it. The rest of the film is a road trip as Jonathan searches for clues about where to find the woman who saved his grandfather's life. Unfortunately, she is the really interesting character, but she only shows up for a brief period of time. The entire plot slowly leads up to this meeting, but once this meeting takes place, it has very little impact. There are a few surprises, but they are not effective because they happen too quickly and, on top of that, Wood does not react to the revelations--or illuminations, in this case--with enough conviction. There is not enough build up of tension and the plot often seems redundant. Until the meeting, there all Jonathan and his tour guides basically do is ask around for directions. On a positive note, the cinematography is excellent along with the musical score and there is plenty of picturesque scenery to behold. However, given that this is in the drama/mystery genre, the plot is simply not suspenseful or surprising enough to be engaging.

SPIRITUAL VALUE: The most moving scenes are when the woman who saved Jonathan's grandfather recalls her experiences during WWII. It is also somewhat inspiring that a young man wants to feel more whole as a person by showing interest in his ancestors. Unfortunately, after the meeting, because of Wood's bland, emotionless performance, it is hard to truly believe that he understand himself and everything around him better.

INSULT TO YOUR INTELLIGENCE: Not enough tension/suspense and a redundant, meandering plot.


THE BOTTOM LINE: Despite good cinematography, there is not much to enjoy in this film because the plot fails to engage and Elijah Wood's performance is too wooden to be moving.


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