Everything Is Illuminated

In his debut as a director and screenwriter, Liev Schreiber — a smart, risk-taking actor — falls into the traps set by an unadaptable novel. Jonathan Safran Foer's best-selling 2002 meta-memoir centers on an obsessive writer named Jonathan (Elijah Wood) who collects artifacts of his life and hangs them on his wall to make sense of the past. Leaving New York for the Ukraine, Jonathan hopes to find the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis. The book rivals the work of Kurt Vonnegut for its flights into the wild blue of time and memory. Schreiber focuses on the present, pushing hard to get comic mileage out of the two Russian guides, both named Alex. The driver (Boris Leskin) claims he's blind, while his grandson (a lively Eugene Hutz) mangles English. Adding to the whimsy overload is a dog, a seeing-eye bitch named Sammy Davis Jr. Jr. Had enough? There's a folksy score that is the essence of obtrusive. Wood, whose mostly mute turn is defined by his black suit and glasses, can only e in stupefaction at Schreiber's jittery mix of broad laughs and sentiment. Audiences will share the feeling.

From The Archives Issue 405: September 29, 1983