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by Anhoni Patel on Aug 17, 2006
As all magicians know there are two kinds of audience members. One who constantly questions every move and whose mind never stops trying to figure out all the tricks. And the other kind who simply sits back and enjoys the show with all the wonder of 5-year old. It's safe to say that filmmaking is a kind of magic show and that filmgoers could also be classified in such a way. In the case of The Illusionist, if you are the former type of filmgoer you will most likely find it predictable and somewhat dull. However, if you are the latter kind, you will find the film quite entertaining.
Directed skillfully by Neil Burger, The Illusionist is part love story, part crime thriller and part drama. And, let's not forget, part magic show. Edward Norton is a talented illusionist, popularly known as Eisenheim, in turn-of-the-century Austria. He has quite a gift, something he has honed, you find out through flashback, since his youth. During which time he had also encountered, befriended and subsequently fallen in love with a daring young aristocrat who had become taken with his skills. Alas, this young love was not meant to be.
However, they meet again by chance years later at one of his mesmerizing performances. At this point Eisenheim has begun to create quite a name for himself. He conjures up orange bushes from seeds and vanishes ladies hankies all while waxing philosophic about the meaning of life and the concept of the soul. His act catches the eye of an ambitious police inspector (Paul Giamatti) who then reports Eisenheim's curious performances to the villainous, power-hungry Crown Prince (Rufus Sewell) who arrives one evening escorting none other than Eisenheim's childhood sweetheart, now a duchess (Jessica Biel). Needless to say, much intrigue ensues after they encounter one another again.
The Illusionist is beautifully shot with charming fade ins/outs bookmarking flashbacks, a deep, rich palette, and a gauzy feel encapsulated each shot as if it were indeed the turn-of-the-century. The cast is top notch, including Biel who, surprisingly, does well in maintaining a vaguely European accent. Giamatti and Norton both give solid performances, but when do they ever really disappoint?
There is an aspect of political intrigue running through the film, however, it is never fully explored and serves to add confusion at certain points. Furthermore, there is an undercurrent of class and, possibly even, ethnic tension that Burger (who also adapted the screenplay from a short story by Steven Millhauser) alludes to but ultimately completely sidetracks. It would have added more depth to the film if he had delved into these issues.
The Illusionist is not a particularly challenging film but it does hold your attention and entertain. It's strange the studios decided to release it in the summer (I mean, how could it possibly compete against films like Snakes on a Plane?) instead of the fall where it seems it really belongs but, then again, who can predict the mysterious magic of Hollywood?
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
by Anhoni Patel on Aug 17, 2006
images courtesy of Yari Film Group
Edward Norton as Eiseinheim and Jessica Biel as Sophie
Paul Giamatti as Chief Inspector Uhl and Edward Norton