Elijah Wood’s night-creature eyes, magnified by the thick lenses of old-man eyeglasses, convey a lot about the cracked intensity of the young man called Jonathan Safran Foer in Everything Is Illuminated. That such a comically somber investigator of his own family’s old-country roots carries the same name as the author of the acclaimed novel on which this loving adaptation is based is just one of the book’s meta flourishes enthusiastically embraced by first-time feature filmmaker Liev Schreiber.
Actors talk about wanting to stretch, but few would hazard a project with such a high degree of difficulty as Schreiber, who also wrote the screenplay. And under the circumstances, Schreiber’s heartfelt project earns points for disciplined ambition. The gloomy tenderness Wood brings to Foer as he searches for his grandfather’s vanished birthplace is offset by the maniacal Eastern European practicality of Eugene Hutz’s Alex, a truly terrible interpreter. For one of those obstreperously original books that are themselves impossible to translate, Everything Is Illuminated is impressively well lit.