The Illusionist

"Grim"

The Illusionist Review


There's something in Paul Giamatti that was just made for the 19th century. With those slightly bulbous but penetrating eyes and stolid weariness, one can imagine him looking out of an old daguerreotype with hat in hand, an emblem of a less superficial age. So it's nice to see Giamatti (so often made to play the whiny comic relief) cast in the otherwise dismissible film The Illusionist as a gruff policeman in fin de si├Ęcle Vienna, dropping his voice into a lower register than usual and assuming an impressive stature; honorable but shaded with a tiny bit of incipient corruption. If only everything else in the film worked this well.

Based on a short story by Steven Millhauser, a Pulitzer winner given to tidy exposition and nostalgic settings, The Illusionist concerns a stage magician who was separated from the love of his love due to his peasant roots and her aristocratic family, only to meet her years later on stage, when she is betrothed to a villainous crown prince. The magician, Eisenheim, is played stiffly by Edward Norton, without a shred of humor or self-awareness. Somewhat in keeping with his performance is that by Jessica Biel as his beloved, Sophie von Teschen -- whose beauty helps brighten these lamp-lit rooms, but who is never close to believable as a Viennese noblewoman. Rather more in keeping with the spirit of the rather melodramatic story is Rufus Sewell, as the evil Crown Prince Leopold, who swans through the film with cigarette holder perched lightly in one hand, his face a deliciously, maliciously bored mask.

Sewell and Giamatti are about the only things livening up the attempt by director/writer Neil Burger (Interview with the Assassin) to spread Millhauser's brief fiction over the length of a feature. A lengthy prelude following Eisenheim and Sophie's young love is played out much longer than necessary, while Eisenheim's performances are padded beyond any possible audience interest. Every now and again, for the sake of drama, Leopold snarls at Giamatti's Chief Inspector Uhl to shut down this Eisenheim, who in his performances has gone out of his way to gall the prince, partially as a way of wooing Sophie. Everything in the film is handsomely mounted, with its sepia-tinted cinematography and unusually dramatic, strings-laden score by Philip Glass, but by the time it comes to the over-plotted and un-shocking bag-of-tricks conclusion, Burger's fussy look has started to feel more confining than beautiful.

For a time, The Illusionist is indeed able to conjure up some magic, the illusion of being an original and captivating film. Eisenheim has a nice scene when, at the start of a performance, the curtains draw back and he walks out, pulling his gloves off and abruptly throwing them into the audience, only to have them turn into black birds and flutter away. And Giamatti can at least be happy to have acquitted himself well in a film that, if anyone sees it, will hopefully result in him being offered fewer roles as the loveable loser. But as such things go, once The Illusionist's great reveal is uncovered, what comes then is not awe and astonishment so much as disappointment, tinged with boredom.

DVD extras include a commentary track and two behind-the-scenes featurettes.

Don't strangle her. She's purty.



The Illusionist

Facts and Figures

Run time: 110 mins

In Theaters: Friday 1st September 2006

Box Office USA: $39.7M

Box Office Worldwide: $86.9M

Budget: $40M

Distributed by: Yari Film Group

Production compaines: Yari Film Group

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 74%
Fresh: 138 Rotten: 49

IMDB: 7.6 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Starring: as Eisenheim, as Sophie, as Inspector Uhl, as Crown Prince Leopold, as Josef Fischer (as Edward Marsan), as Jurka, Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Young Eisenheim, as Young Sophie, as Doctor / Old Man, Vincent Franklin as Loschek, Nicholas Blane as Herr Doebler, Philip McGough as Dr. Hofzinser, as Count Rainer, Michael Carter as Von Thurnburg


Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

No Escape Movie Review

No Escape Movie Review

One of the strongest action thrillers in recent years, this gripping movie cleverly casts actors...

Ricki and the Flash Movie Review

Ricki and the Flash Movie Review

Meryl Streep is having so much fun playing an ageing rocker that the audience only...

The Transporter Refuelled Movie Review

The Transporter Refuelled Movie Review

Like James Bond, wilfully anonymous driver Frank Martin is reborn as a new actor without...

45 Years Movie Review

45 Years Movie Review

Like an antidote to vacuous blockbusters, this intelligent, thoughtful drama packs more intensity into a...

Advertisement
Straight Outta Compton Movie Review

Straight Outta Compton Movie Review

This biopic gallops through the career of groundbreaking gangsta rappers N.W.A, working its way through...

We Are Your Friends Movie Review

We Are Your Friends Movie Review

Basically the perfect summer movie, this lightweight drama has a great-looking cast and plenty of...

Sinister 2 Movie Review

Sinister 2 Movie Review

As the ghoul from the 2012 horror hit stalks a new family, this sequel's sharply...

Paper Towns Movie Review

Paper Towns Movie Review

After setting the scene with vivid characters and some insightful interaction, the plot of this...

Advertisement