Late last night, I was just about to turn off the idiot box when I saw a familiar face staring back at me. At first glance I thought it was Tobey Maguire, but then I stopped and looked closer and there he was, Elijah Wood. I enjoyed him in Green Street Hooligans (also starring Charlie Hunnam of FX's Sons of Anarchy), and of course as "the most famousest of hobbits" in some obscure trilogy...and now I have another reason to admire Mr. Wood's acting chops: Everything Is Illuminated.
*SPOILERS AND COMMENTARY FOLLOWS*
Right off the bat, Jonathan (Wood) is not a warm, fuzzy, likeable character. He wears a suit and tie the entire movie, and has huge Coke bottle-bottom glasses. How would I describe him? Aloof, cold, and introverted all come to mind. After watching his mannerisms (human interaction, his collecting compulsion, etc.) I actually think he acts a LOT like someone on the Autism spectrum, more along the lines of Asperger Syndrome than full-blown Autism. Of course, two of my three kids are on the spectrum with Asperger's, so that might have something to do with my opinion.
Jonathan is on a personal quest to find Augustine, the Ukranian woman who saved his late grandfather during WWII. He books a trip to the Ukraine, employing a translator-driver team that happen to be grandson-grandfather. Alex (translator) is a total character, a Ukranian break dancer/homeboy who speaks good enough English to be dangerous and comedic. Igor (driver) is gruff and a tad eccentric - he thinks and acts like he is blind, although he knows he isn't.
Oh, and I would be remiss if I overlooked Sammy Davis Jr. Jr. who is Igor's somewhat deranged "Officious Seeing-Eye Bitch." You can thank Alex's command of English for that title, written in Sharpie on Sammy's t-shirt.
So Jonfen (Alex's pronunciation of Jonathan), Alex, Igor, and Sammy take off across the Ukraine in an old car in search of the mysterious Augustine and a town no one seems to know about. The Ukranian (and Czech Republic) scenery is both beautiful and stark at times.
Jonathan is a vegetarian, which baffles the natives to no end. "Do you eat steak? The chicken? Sausage?" Funny to me, because my wife is a vegetarian and has dealt with this sort of mindset for years and years.
I won't give away the end, because it's just one of those things you have to see for yourself. Suffice to say, I was hooked from the start and didn't mind at all staying up until 2:30 AM to see if through. If you need explosions, hot chicks, or guys holding guns sideways, Everything Is Illuminated is not for you. I totally recommend this one for folks who like all types of movies, especially character-driven treats like this one.