The Illusionist (2006)

DVD Cover (Twentieth Century Fox)
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Eisenheim is a magician in early 1900's Vienna, who falls in love with a woman well above his social standing. When she becomes engaged to a Crown Prince, Eisenheim uses his powers to free her and undermine the stability of the royal house of Vienna. --IMDb
Review by bluemeanie
Added: September 09, 2006
Remember in the mid-nineties when Hollywood had this fascination with disaster films? They always seemed to come in twos. First there was "Dante's Peak" and then came the film "Volcano" - both about...you guessed it...volcanoes. First came "Deep Impact" and then we were treated to "Armageddon" - both about meteors on a collision course with planet Earth. In 2006, magic seems to be the weapon of choice, and there are two films dealing with the art of magic to hit theatres this year. The second film is Christopher Nolan's "The Prestige", which hits in October. The first is one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year, the beautiful and entertaining "The Illusionist", one of the best films of the year, and a tribute to the golden age of storytelling. My eyes were glued to the screen for every frame of this film, a wholly engrossing love story that gives the audience the perfect amount of mystery and intrigue to keep them guessing. Brilliantly directed, filmed, and cast - "The Illusionist" is a one-of-a-kind experience.

In one of his most complete performances to date, Edward Norton stars as Eisenheim, an illusionist who makes Venice his home, appealing to both the traditional theatre goers, as well as the local Inspector Uhl (Paul Giamatti) and the Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell), both of whom are rather skeptical in Eisenheim's abilities. Early on, we are given a glimpse into Eisenheim's childhood and we see that he was separated from the girl he loved at a young age and left to travel the world. When we see him as an older man, he is re-introduced to his lost love, Sophie (Jessica Biel), who is now set to marry Prince Leopold. The love story ensues, as Eisenheim and Sophie begin seeing one another behind Leopold's back, Inspector Uhl watching them intently the entire time. Events take place about halfway through the film that I will not divulge, but they change the course of this picture and turn Norton's performance into something far more haunting and far more interesting. "The Illusionist" utilizes Edward Norton's skills better than most films have done - with possibly the exception of "American History X".

Visually, "The Illusionist" is stunning. It is filmed very much like an old silent film might have been - choppy and flickery, and with the perfect fades to add to the feeling. Director Neil Burger has really given this film a feel unlike any other in recent memory. I most remember feeling this way when I watched "From Hell" a few years back. Director of Photography Dick Pope has been crafting visual masterpieces for years, from the gorgeous "Dark City" to indie hits like "Secrets & Lies", "Topsy-Turvy", and the brilliant "Vera Drake". He knows how to weave a story better than most cinematographers and "The Illusionist" relies on his mastery to tell its story. Pope succeeds with admirable assistance from writer/director Neil Burger. Together they have produced a film that should not only sweep most of the technical Academy Awards, but hopefully give both Norton and Giamatti well deserves nominations for acting. This makes me wonder how Christopher Nolan's new film, "The Prestige", is going to fare, especially after this film has received far more buzz and revenue than originally anticipated. Let's hope the latter does not flop, but Nolan is going to be hard pressed to top this one. Alas, if there is any director that could do it, Nolan might be the one.

Abracadabra - the performances! Edward Norton has been one of the greatest actors working in the business for years now, and he continues to prove himself with so many different types of roles. He is impossible not to watch on screen. Another of the best actors working today is Paul Giamatti, and he really was the highlight of the film, for me. This is not the Paul Giamatti we are use to seeing. He is more stern, more vicious, more sinister here than in any other films. Even his vocal patterns are different, as he perfects his accent and creates this level of earnestness. The usually abysmal Jessica Biel steps up her game for this film also, and really delivers a fine performance - maybe she does have some talent after all and it has just been lying dormant. The secondary highlight of the film would have to be the still underrated Rufus Sewell, who delivers an amazing performance as Crown Prince Leopold. His energy is kinetic and his intensity is staggering. He has been churning in these kinds of performances for years, from "Dark City" to "Tristan & Isolde". These roles are usually forgotten, but I doubt his performance in "The Illusionist" will be dropped so quickly.

This film really is the complete cinematic package. It gives the audience everything and more, from a tangible love story, to a heated rivalry, to intrigue and suspense with a little bit of the supernatural thrown in for good measure. I loved the ending of this film. I loved the sequence where Giamatti goes over to arrest Norton and then sees for himself. I loved how Giamatti's character start unraveling the puzzle at the end of the film. "The Illusionist" is almost impossible not to like. But, on the same point, the film is very artistic. The cinematography is some of the best of the year, eerily reminiscent of "The Libertine" from earlier this year. Burger relies on classics camera trickery and classic storytelling secrets to get "The Illusionist" to the masses and he does an expert job. I will now give you my Oscar suggestions for the film: Edward Norton for Best Actor, Paul Giamatti for Best Supporting Actor, Rufus Sewell for Best Supporting Actor, a nod for Best Cinematography and Best Original Score, and a nod for Best Art Direction, Costume, and Production Design. If you want to throw a Best Director and Best Picture nod - okay - but let's wait until the end of the year.

Alex P #1: Alex P - added 09/09/2006, 07:08 PM
amazing film. as always Ed Norton and Pail Giamatti were incredible. watching him do his tricks worked really well since you actually felt like one of the audience watching him perform.
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