Volume 75, Number 21 | October 12 - 18, 2005

Koch On Film

By Ed Koch

“Everything Is Illuminated” (+)
This unusually tender, moving story features beautifully crafted dialogue and superb acting. The film opens with the grandmother of Jonathan (Elijah Wood) dying in the United States. At her bedside are several artifacts and photographs, one of which is of his deceased grandfather. Jonathan decides to return to the Ukraine, formerly part of the Soviet Union, to seek out the small hamlet from which his deceased grandfather came.

In the Ukraine Jonathan hires a family in the business of driving and guiding American Jewish families throughout that country in search of their roots. He wants them to help him search for the hamlet which no one can recall. Although the grandfather (Boris Leskin) of this hired dysfunctional family is a taxi driver, he claims that he is blind. He refers to his dog, named Sammy Davis Junior, Junior, as his “seeing eye bitch.” The grandfather speaks Ukrainian and the English translations by his grandson, Alex (Eugene Hutz), are often hilarious. The hamlet is finally found in the person of an old woman, Lista (Laryssa Lauret), one of the survivors whom we learn through flashbacks was present when the Nazis killed the town’s Jewish population. She is a spectacular actress, reminiscent of actresses in the old silent films.

I was urged to see this film by my non-Jewish law partner, AC, and I am glad that I did. You will either love it, as I did, or be totally bored because of the sometimes bizarre actions or lack of action, particularly in the first half hour of the movie. Elijah Wood with his set gaze and expression does a remarkable job in his role.

“The History of Violence” (+)
This is a B-film with a B-script and B-acting. Nevertheless, it is entertaining and worth seeing. The storyline is interesting, although it doesn’t have the tension that I expected and hoped for, and the dialogue is occasionally awkward. The use of a highly improbable rape scene is clearly intended to get your mind off the film’s shortcomings.

Tom (Viggo Mortensen) lives in a small Indiana town where he operates a luncheonette. He and his wife, Edie (Maria Bello), have a daughter about five years old, Sarah (Heidi Hayes), and a teenage son, Jack (Ashton Holmes), who may or may not be gay.

Tom becomes a local hero when he stops a robbery at the diner, and the remainder of the story revolves around whether he is simply a small town guy or a crime figure on the run. William Hurt, who portrays a Philadelphia gangster by the name of Richie, is atrocious in this film. The effeminacy he tries to convey and the lack of education have no real purpose.

“The History of Violence” does not deserve the rave reviews it received, like that of Kenneth Turan’s in the Los Angeles Times. He said the film “is a ticking time bomb of a movie, a gripping, incendiary, casually subversive piece of work that marries pulp watchability with larger concerns without skipping a beat. It’s a tightly controlled film about an out-of-control situation: the predilection for violence in America and how that affects both individuals and the culture as a whole.” However, it is better than many movies out there and an available port in this current storm of dreary and inane flops.

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