I like quirky movies. They tend to prod my brain it seeing the world a little differently. "Everything Is Illuminated" held the promise of providing exactly that experience. The movie is based upon the book of the same title, one which I have not yet read, an important fact because I tend not to like movie adaptions of books I know and love.
A young American Jew named Jonathan Foer (played by Elijah Wood of Lord of the Rings fame) takes a road trip in the Ukraine to find the woman who may have helped his grandfather escape to America during WWII, and therefor, escape the Holocaust. His only guide is an old photograph with an inscription written on the back. This young man is a collector, amassing a great quantity of "things" that have passed through the lives of the members of his family. He is a little strange but in likeable way.
He arrives in the Ukraine to meet his translator and driver, a grandson/grandfather duo. Neither really wants to undertake this trip initially, but it is the family business and so they must. Along for the ride is a demented dog named Sammy Davis Jr Jr (no, that's not a typo). The grandson, Alex, provides comic relief through out with his devotion to outdated American pop culture and his unique grasp of the English language. They all hit the road and so the adventure begins.
The cinematography was just wonderful. I've never traveled in that part of the world and so was appreciative of the attention paid to the surrounding landscape. My photographer's eye was treated to all sorts of moments that I would love to have frozen into a still frame.
The story flows easily along as the mismatched trio searches for a small village named Trachimbrod. Finally it is found. It is at this point that the movie takes a dramatic and unexpected turn and leaves the realm of "quirky" for the higher ground of "haunting".
I am sure that if I was a professional movie reviewer, I could find a number of flaws in this directorial debut by Liev Schreiber, but since I am not, I was able to allow myself to be carried along by the unfolding story. I was invested enough in the characters that I was left shaken and then redeemed by the ending.